Revolution Lullabye

September 2, 2007

CCR 735 Notes for 9/4 McComiskey and Mailloux

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 3:37 am

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Disciplines. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. 1-26.

In the introduction, the author argues that English studies is a discipline that must work to explain its aims and purposes to the larger academic community since it is defined so differently by English studies scholars. In order understand what the field of English studies entails, McComiskey briefly traces the historical development of the discipline, starting with ancient Greek rhetorical studies, and at how different disciplines, such as discourse analysis, linguistics, rhetoric and composition, creative writing, critical theory, cultural studies, literature and literary analysis, and English education, influenced the field. In the 19th century, philology (the historical study of a development of a langauge) greatly influenced English studies and literature was used as the object of study for philology; philology turned English studies into a more “respectable” scientific discipline for the German modern university system. Those who opposed the scientific bent of philology introducted creative writing to bolster English studies’ humanistic identity. Another 19th century battle in English studies was the place of rhetoric, which was reduced to the required freshman composition course, and scholars who wanted the discipline to occupy a place of respect in the academy cut all ties with areas like composition, creative writing, and speech and created English departments centered around philology. The first journals of the English studies field favored philological studies (theory) over other subjects (practice.) John Dewey lamented the privileging of theory over practice and believed pedagogy was important enough to study at the collegiate level. In the 1900s, the philologists had to contend with linguistics, who unlike the philologists, believed that the study of spoken language – not the isolated study of literary texts – gave the most insight about the nature of langauge. Anti-German sentiment of WWI and the rise of linguistics led to the retreat of the philologists to anthropology; this first secession was followed by the creation of independent lingusitics departments, leaving English to be a primarily humanities-based discipline. Then, the rise of literary criticism, attributed partially to the growing interest in American literature due to WWI nationalism, as the centerpiece of English studies pushed out speech communication, which formed its own discipline so that they were not regulated to the service freshman course. However, post-WWII, English studies’ humanities bent left it out of national grants to bolster higher education, which were reserved for science, technology, and foreign language study that would help win the Cold War. English was saved in the 1970s by the literacy crisis in EAmerican education, which helped New Criticism (analysis of literature through a more scientific objective lens rather than a humanistic, subjective one) emerge in a prominent place in the field. New Criticism, however, alienated creative writers and also, with its focus on literature as synchronic text, made it irrelevant to outside political and social movements. English studies then abandoned New Criticism and took on the agendas of the various social movements in the 1960s and 1970s and attempted to revise the canon; this adoption of outside causes caused a conservative backlash in the 1980s – a crisis of criticism – in which scholars bemoaned the lack of foundations and truth because of the embrace of relativism due to the specialization of sub-field and sub-disciplines that affected the reading of texts, such as multiculturalism, feminism, and cultural studies. The backlash led to a rise in the practical wings of English studies – education, rhet/comp, creative writing, and lingusitics. Trained in rhetoric and composition, the new English studies professors adopted critical pedagogy in the 1980s and the 1990s. Around this time, the plurality of the discipline was acknowledged by its changed name: English studies, not just English.

Quotable Quotes

“In its earliest manifestations, attempting in part to disntinguish itself from other more established disciplines like classics, ‘English’ meant a mixture of things: the practice of oratory, the study of rhetoric and grammar, the composition of poetry, and the appreciation of literature, not just in the English language, but written in England by English authors” (7).

“In the context of the new modern university, where disicplines were defined by clear methodological boundaries and exclusive objects of study, English studies’ mixture of functions was not respected” (7).

“The 1950s and 1960s, then, saw a more radical devaluation of English studies than any other age in American history, and this devaluation was a direct result of government intervention” (18).

“This windfall for liteary studies would end (or should have ended) during the late twentieth century with the evolving professionalization of composition studies and its emergence as a full academic discipline in its own right” (19).

“With the general shift in education from theory to practice, linguistics, composition, creative writing, and English education had an opportunity to (re)assert themselves as pragmatic arts, as means to communicate effectivel in a troubled social context. But no such (re)assertion emerged, partly because English studies was so strongly associated then with literature, because the humanities in general were being devalued, and because science ruled with an iron fist (19).

“But, objective and disinterested though it may have appeared, the fact is that New Criticism detached itself from any relevance outside of the academy by locating meaning entirely within the confines of the text: rigorous, perphas, but socially and politically irrelevant” (22).

Notable Notes

The German university system split the disciplines into two camps: the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaft) and the arts and humanities (Geistewissenschaft) (5).

English is such a popular undergraduate major – is it because of the freedom inherent in the loosely tied together components of the field? The murkiness of the purpose of English studies seems to be an institutional problem for funding and respect, but is that problem mitigated by the droves of students (mostly female) who are drawn to the field?

In the mid-20th century, English studies (meaning literary criticism) was so unpopular that the only thing that kept English departments afloat was the required freshman composition course. But this was short to last, as rhetoric and comp at the same time was declaring itself to be a separate field.

Mailloux, Steven. Disciplinary Identities: Rhetorical Paths of English, Speech, and Composition. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2006.

The author, in the hopes of encouraging greater collaboration between English and communication, looks at how both English departments and speech communication departments have claimed rhetoric and included rhetorical studies in their research agendas and curriculum in the 20th century, focusing on two major periods of time: 1910-1920 (the establishment of new disciplines using scientific rhetoric) and the 1990s (during disputes over the rhetorical study of science.) He traces the history of the split between the two disicplines by looking at the foundation of professional organizations in each field – 1915 founding of NAATPS (speech) and 1911 founding of NCTE (focused on pedagogy that was abandoned by MLA.) He claims that speech teachers were driven to form their own disciplinary field in order to escape the se cond-class status they had in English departments. Rhetoric did not leave English departments at the same time; both scholars in English (Fred Newton Scott) and speech communication advocated for a return to rhetoric and were ignored by many in both fields. English and speech missed another opportunity to join together in the 1950s, when NCTE (English) formed CCCC and SAA (speech) formed a parallel society concerned with communication, NSSC. The 1960s, with the publication of Kuhn, Perelman/Olbrechts-Tyteca, and Gadamer brought about the notion of paradigm shifts and led to a new emphasis on rhetoric and interpretation as self-reflexive practices essential for understanding disciplinary identity. The author cites the continuation of stubborn disciplinary identities as a barrier for cooperative work in rhetorical studies between the fields of English, speech communication, and composition. The benefits of such cooperation include dialoges between scholarship in all aspects of rhetoric, which can enlighten all involved, better cooperation between college and K-12 teachers, and create new connections between old, classical traiditons and new shcolarship.

In his chapter “Places in Time,” the author uses another historical example to show how disciplinary identities were formed in English. He uses a paper delivered by James Morgan Hart at the 1885 MLA conference to show how the identity of English was formed through a deliberate “placement of rhetoric in relation to literature and modern philology in the academic study of English,” which relegated rhetoric to grammar drills and literature and philology as the true theoretical discipline (125).

Quotable Quotes

About the place of rhetoric in the time 1910-1920: “So at the moment when a new discipline was gaining increased visibility and intellectual autonomy for public speaking, the interdiscipline of rhetoirc and its humanistic tradition was not immediately dominant in that discipline and was marginalized in its former institutional home. Whereas the new discipline, speech, could view rhetoric as not scientific or modern enough, the older one, English, valued rhetorical traditions primarily as literary background, rhetoric not being literary enough, and relegated its pedagogical practices to composition teachers” (15).

“A multidisciplinary coalition of rhetoricians will help consolidate the work in written and spoken rhetoric, histories of literacies and communication technologies, and the cultural study of graphic, audio, visual, and digital media. Such consolidation can lead to more historically fine-grained analysis and more rigorous theorizing of the discursive interplay between the local and the global and of the rhetorical exchanges among and in different cultures. Reuniting the language arts at the collegel level will also facilitate working more effectively with K-12 teachers, who in many schools have kept these arts together in their curricula. And (nto)finally, increased collaboration between English and communication rhetoricians will help establish a more useful framework for refiguring the relation of what is old and new in the humanistic tradition, especially by encouraging the rethinking of various inherited oppositions: between classical tradition s and postmodern discourses, between renewed aesthetic formalisms and newer sociopoltical critiques of culture” (33).

The author’s argument: “A rethinking of all English studies as cultural rhetoric studies” (127).

“These separations make for a highly fragmented approach to all things rhetorical in academic scholarship, resulting in isolated disciplinary work on everything to do with tropes, arguments, and narratives in historical research and contemporary culture” (129).

Notable Notes

Is it institutionally possible to reunite these disciplines (which, depending on the university or college, are separated into different departments or not)? Isn’t it a larger question on enrollment, funding, etc? Will another decrease in student enrollment, like during the 1970s-1980s, cause greater collaboration?


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