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Those of you who subscribe to a particular disciplinary listserv may have caught the conversation last week wherein certain of my own efforts towards making graduate admissions a little more transparent were cited (Thanks, Nels!). It cost me a little bit of fuse (that is short enough when eavesdropping on said discussion list) to allow the final word in that conversation to stand, particularly as it implied both a misunderstanding of my own efforts and a poorly constructed defense for program opacity, but let it stand I did. And that's neither here nor there.

Another conversation occurred while that one was going on, tagged with the creepy subject line, "celebrating the deserving before they die," itself embedded in a post from another conversation. Among various points raised was the imminent publication of this volume, the unfortunately and strangely titled CompBiblio, which apparently offers just the sort of hagiography folks in my field are interested in, with 47 chapters on "Leaders in Composition."

You might think that this would lead to discussions about exactly what a "Leader in Composition" does, or how 47 was the magic number (only someone who didn't watch Alias or Lost could ask this sincerely), or just what role such volumes are supposed to play in the field, beyond reinforcing the canon-we-pretend-we-don't-have. Well, my friend, that's where you'd be wrong. We're more likely to celebrate the celebrations of the deserving before they die, I fear.

I don't really know what to say about this phenomenon, other than it felt like a perfect example for why I don't always feel especially comfortable with my discipline. I was reading around a bit in some organizational studies last night, following up a link to a piece about how weak paradigm development in that field makes it difficult for new scholars, and almost every avowedly depressing fact about that field was double-true for mine. Of course, we're "humanities," and so that's to be expected apparently. Would that it were not so, I suppose, but beyond that? I guess I feel like if books like these are responses to a widespread perception of fragmentation in the discipline (i.e., weak paradigms), then there are more fruitful ways of adding a bit of centripetality to the field. I've talked about some of them here over the years, and performed them both as a writer and a resource designer, but often feel like those efforts fall on mostly deaf ears.

I'm pretty sure, though, that amping up our "lives of the saints" output is more a gesture in the direction of the problem than an actual solution. And I know that that may be an unfair characterization of the books themselves (apparently, there's more than 1 scheduled for publication this year), but I'd give the field a shiny new quarter if even half of the hagiographies in our field were actually acknowledged as such.

And let me apologize half-heartedly for loving the word hagiography (From the late Latin usage, "that which is written about the saints": the type and also the body of literature and knowledge based on written sources and relating to the lives, sufferings, and miracles of the saints.). Blame DeCerteau.

That is all.



I felt a little uneasy with that hagiographic thread too, but kept telling myself things like "it's still a despised discipline, most English professors aren't even aware of it, of course people are going to feel insecure and inclined to toot their mentors' horns ..." and "well, other disciplines publish Festschrifts for their big names ..." And the "deserving before they die" thingy was because of Wendy Bishop dying young a few years ago.

But then, you know, the thread started growing on me, despite its "necrophilology" (great word!). Why DOES someone become a compositionist? The field's low prestige, it seems to me, would tend to draw misfits to it, people who deviate in interesting ways from the usual academic stories. Back in the nineties, when I was a translation scholar, I was contemplating putting together a volume of translators' life stories--on the same assumption, that the people who are drawn to such an ignored and often despised profession must be interesting.

What do you think, sheer romanticism?

Btw, I've blogrolled your blog on our program blog:

tee hee--at least they're guaranteed 47 sales.

Hi, Doug...sorry about the lag, but you got caught in my filters...

I think Theresa Enos did a collection a while ago asking folks to talk about their relationship to and transition into the field. I may be misremembering it. Living Rhetoric and Composition, maybe?

Maybe my patience is a little less for this given that I came from a program where rhetoricians were the cool kids? Both programs I studied at, actually, treated rhet/comp with respect, where working outside the traditions of literature was actually respectable...

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on January 24, 2008 7:04 PM.

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