The New Work of Composing

Scene Two: Invention is Embodied

In practice, invention manifests through the body, for a given body actively participates as an inherent material, alongside other materials, other bodies, in the reading and writing process, in the ever-becoming, ever-shifting engulfment of semiosis (Crowley 2002; Fleckenstein 1999, 2002, 2003; Haraway 1991; Hayles 1999; Hawhee 2004; Lewiecki-Wilson & Brueggemann, 2008; Selfe, 2007). In a multimodal, multiliterate society, the body functions as a modality, as a kinesthetic, visual, tangible, sensory multidimensional complex (New London Group, 2000). The body rhetorically functions as a topos, or commonplace, across disciplines, across theoretical stances and epistemologies, and across experiential standpoints. Meaning making is mediated through the body—in a given body's available means. As Kristie Fleckenstein argues, "any use of language implicates a use of corporeality, blurring the distinctions between flesh and word, bodies and texts" (p. 46).

In Embodied Literacies, Fleckenstein identifies that "a corporeal literacy points us to the material dimension of writing-reading, to meaning's reliance on our physical participation in the world" (p. 46). Attention to the physical body in invention practices, as a centralized piece of the meaning making process, makes explicit the minute, involuntary, and habitual ways in which individual bodies make contact with other bodies, other texts, other external objects/subjects in the world. It is through the body that we feel, smell, taste, see, move, and hear, at varying degrees, stimuli beyond the self. The body is intricately entangled with a multitude of overlapping domains and branches, opening passages and possibilities for diverse meaning-making encounters. Writing about her daughter, Anna, Fleckenstein observes, "...literacy shapes itself where her body and her language come together....Anna positions herself in space, learning through the conjunction of movement, classroom instructions, and at-home reading the directionality of letters, the embodiment of writing" (p. 44). Fleckenstein suggests that the body, immersed in and aware of its literate activity, is a separate but coalescing material agent from/with language; therefore, the body plus language and other discourses, in relation, contributes to the rhetorical situation of a larger literacy occasion or act.

In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles distinguishes between the process of incorporation, based on the body’s ritualized movements across temporal and historical borders, and the process of inscription, situated in and through language; Hayles stresses that “The body’s competencies and skills are distinct from discourse, although in some cases they can produce discourse or can be read discursively” (pp. 99-100). For Hayles, similar to the argument more recently made by Paul Prior and Jody Shipka (2003), “…embodiment creates context by forging connections between instantiated action and environmental conditions” (p. 203). In other words, invention happens when one sits down at the computer, facing a blank screen, but invention continues as one moves from the computer screen to the kitchen, from typing to washing dishes; the mind doesn't stand still, compartmentalized, because one's body moves locations and tasks, but rather, the body travels through fluid boundaries, only compartmentalized by the tendency to enforce linear demarcations between experiences and spaces. The mind, through the body's movements, to echo Hayles, "forges connections," renewed combinations of a whole, integrated subject matter--inherent with digressions, swirls, steps off the beaten path. The body, or what Hawhee (2004) calls the “mind-body complex,” is ever-present, ever-collaborative.

In the humanities in particular, it seems that scholars have forgotten or neglected to name that we work with and through our own bodies and engage with other bodies—that the body is an active location of both knowing and being, of both contact and resistance. We tend to metaphorically replace or cover the body with 'text,' passively reading the body as a figurative representation of social and cultural codes perhaps in order to resist the binary reading of the body as biological, as expressive. We tend to erase the body despite its corporeal presence, and we must re-remember that such erasures are not neutrally enacted, but that the body is always already a politicized identity-space. When we suppress the body, we perpetuate the making of what Foucault (1977) named docile bodies in our classrooms, in our scholarship, and in our lives, but we can make a conscious and well-informed, experiential case against continuing such practices. We can cease to "rob ourselves of ourselves and each other" (Lorde, The Cancer Journals, p. 23). We can transform our methodologies; we can move the body from the background to the foreground, as enacted by feminist and disability studies scholars in a variety of media.

In their critical sourcebook, Disability and the Teaching of Writing, Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Bruggemann (2008) name Part Two of their book "Embodied Writing." In this section, they argue that "embodied knowledge emerging from disability experiences and perspectives shapes the teaching of writing" (p. 95). As Lewiecki-Wilson and Bruggemann advocate, "...all writing instructors-whether disabled or not- [can] address the role of bodies in learning and in writing" (p.95). We extend this argument and rearticulate the underlying warrant that bodies compose differently, across multiple modes, forms, and technologies. Paying attention to the role of various bodies and various abilities will expand what we constitute as writing, as teaching, as inventing.

Inspiring our own attempts to use new media to visualize the central role of the body in invention, Anne Frances Wysocki (2002) and Melanie Yergeau (2009) have re-embodied the digital writing process by literally folding the physical body, as visible content, into their highly theoretical, multimodal webtexts; in both texts, the body is an explicit and central piece of the subject matter, merging materiality and content. In both texts, the authors designed the interface with images of physical, visible bodies—although in drastically different ways—which call for distinct theoretical interpretations. Speaking back to the body as trope from her own situated knowledge, Yergeau interjects, "I'm a text. Sometimes I think this metaphor is faulty, especially since my body isn't booklike, and, although I do have a spine, I don't have pages or a cover....My body is text personified" (2009). Yergeau remediates the metaphorical connection between text and body, between flesh and book, echoing Wysocki’s argument in “A Bookling Monument” that we have learned the materiality of the body by comparing it to the materiality of the book. Wysocki designs an interface that blurs the distinction between body and book: the flesh-colored body forms the backdrop of the entire text, and white folded sheets of paper scatter over the body, ordered, structurally balanced, yet non linear—each sheet of paper contains a deeper, entangled narrative tributary that builds toward a larger, intertextual argument. In both texts, users select where on the body interface to navigate, becoming embodied extensions of the text and through their use, making meaning about the role and implication of their own bodies.

As you make your way through act 2 and act 3 of this project, you will recognize the presence of human bodies: You will see human bodies engaged in acts that might at first seem disconnected from invention practices, bodies diversely engaged in daily living. In act 2, we recorded our own bodies on video, we collected creative commons videos that captured living, breathing bodies, and in act 3, we created and discovered visual images and linguistic quotes that contained bodies. As you engage acts 2 and 3, we invite you to experience the embodied re-enactment of invention—to take notice of how your body co-operates with our bodies in a larger communal effort to reinvent invention (and body studies).

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