“The fantastic, we have seen, lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from ‘reality’ as it exists in the common opinion. […] If he decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we say that the work belongs to another genre: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous.” — Tzvetan Todorov
Key Terms: Genre, Fantastic, Uncanny, Marvelous
Tzvetan Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (translated from the French by Richard Howard), has fundamentally changed elements of my perspective on what I shall, for the moment, rather sloppily call “fantastical fiction.” In fact, after reading this book, I find that I must begin to revise terminology that I have been blithely using for years now. So, first a brief examination of the work–then I’ll move on to the effect it’s had on me and how I can think about it in terms of my comps questions.
“We like to think that we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.” — Ursula K. Le Guin
Key Term: Translation
This text is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. In it, Le Guin articulates many of her ideas about the properties of fantastical fiction as well as discussing her approach to writing. For my purposes, I am most interested in her discussion of fantasy an an act of “translation,” which resonates very strongly with the process of symbol-construction one may derive from Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction and Kenneth Burke’s Counter-Statement, both of which I will be exploring in other posts as I proceed through my reading lists. The gist of the idea is that, like Tolkien, Le Guin rejects the notion of direct allegory–rather, she embraces the (quite Campbellian/Jungian) idea that lived and imagined experience resonate with patterns, which become symbols, which we respond to. For Le Guin, this also seems to speak to her method of writing, as she asserts that she is more of a discoverer, a chronicler, than a planner and architect of stories. Thus, one might consider her entire writing process an act of translation, bringing things into being as prose that previously only existed in her imagination, as created by her thoughts and personal experiences.
List 1: Pleasure and inclusion
These texts represent a bridge, a connection between both myself and RCTE as well as forming links between varied ways of understanding our discipline and entering into our work—of reading, writing, teaching, learning, or otherwise engaging with the work and the world. I have included various examples of Greco-Roman Rhetoric for both the obvious canonical reasons and because making connections to them is key to my concept of bridging; in particular, I want to look at the interrelatedness of pleasure and inclusion as they apply to identity, both in the sense of the individual and the community. I come by this notion largely through my own experience in the academy, but it is only thanks to the experiences and thoughtful words of Nigerian novelist (though it seems reductive to name her solely this), Chimamanda Adichie.
Adichie gave a TED Talk in 2009 entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this talk, she addresses many ideas, but one in particular illuminated my thinking: the notion of perceiving oneself as “allowed” access to a community. In the case of Adichie, as a child she only had access to Western books featuring white protagonists whose life experiences were alien to her. As a result, until she discovered African books, Adichie did not believe that people “like” herself could exist in literature. She has since, of course, become one of many examples of how literature certainly has room for African presence; indeed, literature would doubtless be much reduced as a field, as an experience, if not for that presence. Adichie’s revelation that room existed for her in literature is thus a lens that informs my entire approach to this list.
First of all, I must note that this is not in fact a text about archives. Rather, it is a text concerning the study of video games and how that study might be applied pedagogically, and as my current project involves working with an archive of video games, this seemed like a very appropriate piece of scholarship to consider. In effect, this text offers up a direction of application for the archive I’m exploring, and considering those applications will aid me in furthering my project and related research. Therefore, while this text is somewhat unconventional in terms of the usual readings in the class (as it does not specifically orient to archival research), it can be implicitly considered relevant to the subject of such research as it deals with a range of past games, some of which might be found in the Learning Games Initiative Research Archive (LGIRA), which I am focusing on for my project and research. With this in mind, I will enter into my specific discussion of the article.
Revisiting the second half of Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition (Eds. Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo), two additional pieces cropped up that I found created interesting connections to the two I discussed last week. The first of these was an interview with Kenneth Lindblom: “Spinning Gold from Old Straw.” Lindblom sets up his discussion of the Illinois State University Archives by noting that the “most precious” material had been removed decades previous to the interview. Left behind were texts considered “less important,” though these still contained many of interest to the rhet/comp field such as old notes, policy documents, courses of study, handwritten correspondence, and photographs. Said materials were not particularly well-kept, but the result is that they were also largely unexplored, untouched. Lindblom was also able to get to know the university’s archivist, historian Dr. JoAnne Rayfield, who became familiar with his research interests. This allowed her to offer him targeted documents that might appeal to said interests with increasing accuracy over time. In time, this relationship allowed Lindblom to “strike gold,” finding just the sort of correspondence that most interested him.
In reading from part one of Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition—edited by Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo—I was struck by two particular pieces, both interviews composed by Lori Ostergaard. These were “On Keeping a Beginner’s Mind” with David Gold and “I Had a Hunch” with Peter Mortensen. The two texts present what I feel are contrasting views on being open to discovery when utilizing an archive; Gold presents a claim and method designed to help one avoid error and confirmation bias, while Mortensen frames a kind of “happy accident” approach to archive research. I have no doubt that both are accurate enough, though I will note that I found Gold’s interview particularly more informative and useful.
In the opening of her piece, L’Eplattenier raises the issue of research and archival methodology as lacking sufficient discussion within the discipline of rhetoric, asking, “Why do we as a discipline rarely talk about the methods we use to access our information?” (68) In answering this, L’Eplattenier explores the roles of rhetoric historians and how they are situated within the discipline. From here, having built some context for her discussion, she moves to building the case for her vision of the importance of archival research methods instruction within rhetoric and composition: “Vitally important to the development and construction of any research project, methods are the means by which we conduct our research, how we locate and use primary materials, and for historians, how we recover materials for our histories” L’Eplattenier (69). Essentially, she asserts, methods affect our understanding of the work; they “make the invisible visible.”
In Linda Ferreira-Buckley’s piece “Rescuing the Archives from Focault,” she reviews the trend toward regarding the archive with skepticism, citing the progression from a classical understanding of history as a subjective discipline to the 19th Century treatment of history as an “exact science.” She notes that while this problem is valid, the archive—far from reinforcing a static or pseudoscientific model of history—actually provides a very valid opportunity to re-examine and interrogate historical understanding. For this reason, she advocates that rhetoricians have a strong background in archival methodology. The archive as memory is not a new idea at this point—our readings have discussed it at several points—yet perhaps it is interesting to think of it as a site of the recollection and reinvention of memory instead of merely as a repository of past artifacts that might contribute to communal memories.
Reflections on Victor Villanueva’s “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism,” “‘Memoria’ is a Friend of Ours: On the Discourse of Color,” and “Colonial Memory, Colonial Research: A Preamble to a Case Study.”
I will note, I broadly consider myself a person of progressive thinking—progressive in the contemporary rather than 20th Century context, I note—who attempts enlightened approaches to the world and aspires to critical awareness. I emphasize “attempts” and “aspires,” because when I encounter writers (like Villanueva) whose topic centers on what I might broadly and reductively call “race issues,” I am frequently struck with a kind of frustrated helplessness. Consider the “On the Rhetoric” piece; it opens with a vivid scene, rendered in striking prose, that gives context to a cultural resistance to colonial influence. Then, as the piece unfolds, it becomes a litany of accusations—white America beat Rodney King, made San Franciscan children cover themselves in flour, killed a frustrated Chinese engineer—that the text asserts are ubiquitous. In point of fact, I don’t disagree that such incidents are more common—horrifically more common—than they should be in anything approaching a civilized society. (I used to live in Rohnert Park, and I admit freely that the story of the Chinese engineer gave me a jolt.) So, let me be clear: I do not contend that race issues are not still a huge problem in contemporary American society. I believe they are absolutely at issue; all one must do is consider the recent Trayvon Martin shooting case (not to mention so many others) to see how embroiled the US still is in questions of race and racism. I want to make it very clear that my desire is not to pretend that racism does not exist, nor to silence discourse on the subject.
A reading response to:
Harriet Bradley, “The Seduction of the Archive: Voices Lost and Found”
Heidi McKee and James E. Porter, “The Ethics of Archival Research”
Barbie Zelizer, “Reading Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory”
Thomas Osborne, “The Ordinariness of the Archive”
Barbara Biesecker, “Of Historocity, Rhetoric: The Archive as Scene of Invention”
As the aim here was to keep to 500-750 words, I have simply offered reflections to each piece individually rather than trying to weave them together into a cohesive whole; my hope is that by juxtaposing them yet leaving the reflections separate I will be able to hold the texts more usefully in mind while still considering them against one another.