I found the three installations of the Octalog discussions truly fascinating, from multiple perspectives: 1) as a disciplinary methodology/ideology perspective 2) as a reader/student who has read work from so many of the people who participated and 3) as a researcher involved in archive/historical recovery work focused on women’s composition and rhetorical practices at the local level, though contextualized within a larger cultural history, in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

1 – a: By showing these discussions as discussions between well-known scholars engaged in the work of theorizing and producing historical scholarship in rhetoric and composition, I have much more of a sense of “scholarship as conversation” than I typically get from reading inter-textual references between the same scholars. My one regret in these proceedings is that a resultant conversation was not presented in “Octalog II” or “Octalog III.” The conversational aspect of the first Octalog was by far the most illuminative and dynamic version of this for me – I was so disappointed that I was not able to hear the participants of II or III actually speak to one another and entertain questions. Did these occur and were not recorded? Are they recorded elsewhere? If so, where can I read/hear them?

3 – a: This movement from conversational to more “isolated statements around the same topic” reminds me, actually, of a dynamic that I saw in my own archival research. Once upon a time, the administrators/teachers (who were the same people fulfilling both roles) of Western Seminary (prior to it becoming a college) kept a close relationship with Mt. Holyoke, the “mother school” from which Western arose. There are personal letters – what happened from day to day, segments of the writing that students did, news, concerns, worries…. But this dynamic disappears after the first few years, becoming short, terse, superficial lists after the first decade. As someone working in the archive examining the remaining written artifacts, I was sorry to see this dynamic slowly disappear, until the relationship seemed forgotten. Eventually, no one seemed to even remember that there was, or had been, a relationship. Today, there is a lot of scholarship about the “Seven Sisters” schools, of which Mt. Holyoke was the first. No one remembers Western, even though it was the first “satellite” school based on the Mt. Holyoke model.

1 – b: The shifts in ideology and theoretical stances can be viewed in these discussions as well, from the late 1980s where poststructuralism and complex views of subjectivity (in both senses of the word) and objectivity were suddenly problematized, often amidst controversy and resistance from within the academy. Often, there is a sense that there were more uniform ideologies at work when looking back historically – this same issue that we see being discussed in the Octalogs can be seen occurring in our looking back at the Octalogs. They are historic moments themselves, and seeing the conversation – the actual conversation between embodied people in one time and place – gives a different sense of the divergent perspectives that reading about it “as theory” does not. This conversation gives a more nuanced sense of what was at stake for the participants, and that those whom we might want to group together or apart (at different ends of the table, so to speak) did not wholly agree nor disagree with one another.

2 – a: I’ve read the historic work that referred to here, especially in the first Octalog; these are the author/scholars whose work I cite within my own. It was very interesting to me to see/read/hear them engaged in these conversations – hey! I (kind of) know those people, or at least their work. I was very disappointed that I did not get to hear more actual conversation from those participating in II and III – I couldn’t wait for Jasper Neel to comment, to discuss, to converse. I enjoy his writing style, both in his official “work” and in personal correspondence. What would he say? How would he respond to Cheryl Glenn! What would come of this discussion? To Linda Ferreira-Buckley? I actually turned the pages over looking for more, knowing as I did it that this was fruitless. I want more! More conversation!

3 – b: How do I approach this work that I do, have done, and continue to do in the archives? How do I represent the women whose writing I read, whose letters I touch, whose thoughts I interpret? How do I describe (or justify?) the sense of place that I feel when I do this work? How it is about discursive practices in a space – the building (that still stands, and where the archives are stored) with its scars from fire (the northern wall still has marks from the 1871 fire, not to be confused with the fire of 1855 that destroyed the building completely, nor the one of 1860 that did the same), its basement that was off-limits for the young women who attended, the halls in which loitering was not allowed, the upper tower where graffiti (itself a type of composing, a kind of expression I was here….) was created and subsequently prohibited. I cross the streams that they were forbidden to cross (though they did anyway – I know because they wrote it down) and come and go as I please, as they were not able to. It is the ground, the grass, the trees…. These things still remain. These objects, this sense of space and place – that is as much a part of my research as the writing produced there.  It is something that I feel in my body, in my bones – how do I translate this into slick-sounding academic discourse?

2 – b: I feel behind in the conversation. I read and read and read and read – last spring I read twenty-two books in a row, more or less in one ninety-six hour sitting, to get a sense of the major works of scholarship extant in my area of interest. I will read them all again, probably many times. I know what Conners has to say about the history of composition, the change from orality to writing, the arguments against that; Nan Johnson’s discussion of parlor rhetoric and how that compares to male-dominated, agonistic rhetoric; Sharon Crowley’s history of composition, and of course James Berlin’s books and articles…. I can’t catch up. There is too much to read, too much theorizing to do, too many iterations and cultural changes to track the things I need to know to even think about writing about what I care about. It’s not enough any more to “uncover” or “rediscover” or “give voice to.” Now you have to do something incredibly fancy with your research, put it into particular (new) theoretical frames, put it into conversation with so many voices that it becomes impossible to speak. In my incredibly thoughtful, helpful peer reviews from College English the basic message was this: Good writing, this will go somewhere, but it’s not fancy enough. Back to the drawing board – not the archive, not the women whose writing I want to talk about, but to theoretical bells and whistles. I am a dog training myself to do circus tricks.

1/2/3: I think I would feel more inspired if everyone had conversed, if I could see a sense of a continued conversation, rather than the (likely incorrect but nevertheless) disconnected feeling I had from reading Statements of a sort from the speakers/presenters rather than their interaction. It feels isolated, isolating. More conversation, fewer thesis statements and authoritative sounding claims – that’s what I’d like to see. It is a conversation I want to join, but it seems less inviting with out the conversing part. I have something to say, but this is a very involved, very hashed out conversation, and the participants are not always talking to, but sometimes talking about, or over, or through, one another, though generally in civilized ways. And my beginning paragraph will conclude with the phrase: Here is where I don’t make a thesis statement.


3 comments on “Octalog(s)

  1. I, too, really wanted to see a conversation between the participants in Octalogs II and III. It’s easy for a researcher to sound solid and sure of their claims in a self-contained statement, and I feel like the conversations forced the speakers to, if not reconsider, at least clarify their stances. Going back to my own post and my in-class writing, I would really liked to have seen how the participants in Octalog III would have worked their way through the question of what material from marginalized rhetorics was worth studying. As I was reading about your experience with “catching” up and receiving feedback from journals, it suddenly occurred to me that what we witnessed in Octalog I was a real life version of the conversations we create when we write articles. As for what you say in 3-b, I feel like this type of information is acceptable, at least in moderation, and encouraged in feminist research. Look at the example research studies that we read in Research Methods and in several of the PDFs we read last week. Those researchers not only explained their topics, but they also explained their personal backgrounds and stakes in their research. I keep flashing back to the woman who researched the rhetoric of her bar patrons (really wish I could remember her name).

  2. I love that the attempts to understand how and why we recover texts (as discussed in the Octalogs and the feminist historians pieces) informed your own recovery process. I particularly liked the emphasis on “scholarship as conversation;” I agree that Octalog I really forced you to understand that these scholars aren’t just crafting this research, these theories, and ideas while separated, but they really do all inform each other.

    And on this “looking back” at history–I really appreciated how, like I said, you used this method of examining the past that these scholars did to think about your own work. “I cross the streams that they were forbidden to cross (though they did anyway – I know because they wrote it down)” — How different are our interpretations from those of the past? When we’re not bound by the same things these writers were? We can always try to understand the language, the culture, etc to get ourselves into the mindset, but there is always that element that they were there and we weren’t (but we’re here now). I just found that discussion of yours really fascinating–thank you.

  3. I, too, am disappointed that there wasn’t more dialogue in Octalogs II and III. But it ties in with what I see as an unfortunate trend in our field in the past, oh, ten years or so: we seem to have a reluctance or avoidance to talk across differences, and instead we tend to retreat into our comfortable camps where we all agree. But that relates to a general loss of respect (understanding?) for the role of rhetoric. When used properly, rhetoric can be a strategy for people to disagree or to talk across boundaries (e.g., of culture) … an immensely valuable civic skill! The early rhetoric historians not only “knew” this abstractly, but they knew how to DO it. More recent theorists and historians to me don’t even seem acquainted with the practice.

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