The New Work of Composing

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Mother Trouble

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The Trouble with Mother

Any woman who has had teenagers will testify that when kids are doing something they shouldn’t be doing and Mother nags about it, lectures about it, pleads about it, attacks it—in short, when she makes a federal case of it—the behavior only gets worse, often very creatively worse.” (Sonia Johnson, 1989, as cited in Sonja K. Foss & Cindy Griffin, 1993, p. 9)

Our primary trouble with mother is that we argue. As we know, our field, and scholarship in general, is built on and around argument. Foundational and necessary, we have aims for argument; they are dynamic, and at the end of the day, everything’s an argument. Even Burkes parlor metaphor is ultimately a contest of one-upmanship. And, it seems absurd to think that we may not want to argue.

Early on, what drew me to electronic literacy was the collaging potential of electracy: that we could happily juxtapose images, sounds, and texts to see what kinds of conclusions we might together draw with our readers. Looking back at my dissertation recently, I am saddened by the hope with which I turned to electracy and feminist iterations of electracy in particular. The reality of the field is that we have not turned to conversation as our metaphor, even in a post-media/social networking world; we have remained with argument. At Computers and Writing 2010, one of the presentations focused on reading a hypermedia text together as a group with the expectation that the audience would participate in the peer review process for Kairos. The piece played; in it there was a complex juxtaposition of sound, video, voice-over, and text. And the conversation afterwards began with the question, is this scholarship? The crowd determined that yes, it might be scholarly, but that no, it wasn’t really scholarship because it was more poetic than argument, and that really to be successful as argument, we needed to be able to stop the piece in medias res to be able to sit with it and to argue with it.

I had to sit with the concept for a while because it troubled me, and initially I couldn’t identify exactly what was troubling. But I set out to talk it through with Roxanne, a conversation we had to mediate by phone because she hadn’t been able to attend, and that mediation created some spaces for reflection that may not have been possible had she been there in person (a concept I’ll return to). But in the course of the recap, I said, “maybe I don’t want to argue any more” and the ping there resonated for some time.

The next day in our own presentation, it pinged for me again when we had an opportunity to talk about invitational rhetoric in relationship to the pro-ana community since it remains too easy for us to dichotomize our conversations into us versus them relationships.

That conversation about argument troubles me still. 


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