Williams, Rhetorical Agency, and Writing (and a lot of frustration)

Reading this text so closely after coming back from a trip to Atlanta brought a lot of these issues closer than what I would have expected. Close enough that I got angry. Don and I were talking about this. It’s like “internet” angry—those posts on Facebook that you tell yourself you’ll never respond to, but can’t help it and fifteen posts later you can’t believe how hard you are pounding the keyboard. Yeah. So I’m not going to make this post that angry. But seriously? After things went down in Atlanta, any slight optimism about how this country has tried to progress flew out the window.

Reading the section in Williams text about racism in academia especially made me want to pound the keyboard. Besides the excuses of academic bs (“Are you suggesting that race and gender issues be censored from the law-school classroom?[...]What you are proposing…sound like the very antithesis of academic freedom”[83-84]), the procedures she had to carefully orchestrate to actually address the problem were an almost institutional nightmare. To throw in a little narrative here, I still remember a question on the state achievement tests that I took back in second grade that had something to do with various indigenous housing and remember being confused. And in high school, we were subjected to watching videos of Native Americans huffing paint as the instructor laughed, made racial slurs, and had us watch it again. Did I mention our mascots were the Warriors? And to this day, I still maintain that Oklahoma isn’t the South if only to stress that these things happened everywhere and aren’t just a southern problem. But I’m digressing a bit…

I try not to mention PoMo here, but that class sneaks into everything it seems. We just read a couple of articles about rhetorical agency—something I’m a little close to thanks to my thesis. The first one gave a report on a conference that focused on the question of how we ought to think about rhetorical agency. You seen, Foucault made this difficult because the subject is always subjected and constructed socially. There was a brief shout out to marginalized groups and that more attention should be paid to them since, you know, they’ve kinda been dealing with issues of having no agency in the “wider” discourse. Ok, there was a shout out, at least it’s something, right? But then, there was a response by Christian Lundberg and Ioshua Gunn (Joshie Juice…this guy right here: http://www.joshiejuice.com/academic/) And they were basically embracing the PoMo thing and saying that we shouldn’t think about rhetorical agency in the way that’s it’s been thought out. Interesting enough. But then, and I didn’t think about this at first, they wanted to reframe how we think agency works. Rather than the agent “possessing” agency, we should reframe it by thinking of agency as possessing us. This might not be doing it justice, but moving on..

I hesitate with that thought. If agency is thought of as possessing us, they do we deny that it can’t possess marginalized voices? What to we say when there are groups of people who have had rhetorical agency, their own language, stripped from them? What about those who have been vanished by rhetorics of the Vanishing Indian? Does that subvert the problem and not make it a problem? Is this agency possessing others raced?

So I ask these, and then I’m reminded that these marginalized voices wouldn’t have any power if they didn’t assert themselves as marginalized in the first place. They have to othered so that the Other can have a voice and agency. This seems like a lot of academic denial.

I have problems with this. And this will be a forever long post if I keep going into this.

So, I’ll finish this post on this thought to kind of tie in Williams, rhetorical agency, and writing. We’ve read Students Rights to the Own Language and we’ve talked about it, so I won’t set it up here, but let’s think about that again. Williams writes, “I deliberately sacrifice myself in my writing. I leave no part of myself out, for that is how much I want readers to connect with me. I want them to wonder about the things I wonder about, and to think about some of the things that trouble me (92). I wish all could be able to use writing in this way, but as we’ve seen with SRToL and with those Native Americans who had their language assimilated out of them, this isn’t possible. And this agency has been denied.

So don’t tell me that agency possesses us. It’s more of a problem then just that. Do not quiet once again those voices that have worked on trying to gain access to that agency.

And thus ends my fifteen angry posts that could have shown up on Facebook. I guess I did end up pounding the keyboard a bit too much. But there is so much to say still...