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Pedagogy 3.3 (2003) 377-397
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A Rhetoric/Pedagogy of Silences:
Sub-version in Paul Kameen's Writing/Teaching
It is the position of the teacher when he knows enough to listen to something "other" than his own voice. This space between question and answer is filled with possibility. It is where my hopefulness about teaching begins, and where I try to return when I've lost it. That space is very much like the position of the writer, just before he starts to write, except here there are many authors present. From the "text" that is about to issue from this collaboration, changes of consequence may be effected, for all the involved parties. Here writing and teaching might be said to (e)merge.
—Paul Kameen (2000: 252)
Only those who don't listen to the silence think it's silent.
—Geoffrey Sirc (1999: 189)
In "Making the Gesture: Graduate Student Submissions and the Expectation of Journal Referees," Richard McNabb (2001) argues that graduate students should not submit articles for publication that are based solely (or even primarily) on personal experience in the classroom. Rather, articles should be securely grounded in the scholarship and conventions of the discipline in question. Most veterans of rhetoric and composition would surely agree, as do most of the editors and reviewers McNabb references. Why, then, has Paul [End Page 377] Kameen published a book that not only argues but enacts the opposite by privileging the personal and failing to go through the academic exercise of "gesturing"—placing the personal in the context of academic research? Kameen (2000: ix) tells his readers up front that he intends to subvert the research-teaching binary that privileges the type of knowledge produced by scholarship over that produced by personal, classroom experience. Kameen even tells his readers to ignore publication altogether (152). The reason he ignores this commonplace value in our discipline, I argue, is that his book is not about product but about process. Specifically, it is about method, an ongoing process of interpretation and invention. Kameen is primarily interested in that position in the classroom where both the student and the teacher inhabit a liminal phase somewhere between layman and scholar, knowledge and text. In short, his book is about a silent space that foregrounds invention and provides a place from which writing/teaching processes emerge.
Rather than do research, write it up, publish it, and then use the classroom to disseminate that knowledge, Kameen invites academics to see the classroom as an open space that produces knowledge. Reversing the research-teaching binary suspends the theoretical basis of his book in order to enact personal narratives and reflections on teaching and texts. It subverts the linear deductive movement of research to teaching, which creates theoretical and historical absences in his text. 1 For me, two noticeable absences in the text are Martin Heidegger and his concepts of forestructure, the open, and Saying; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his approach to method and "forethoughtful query." These figures or concepts are in some ways personal, readerly choices on my part; however, I cannot help but think that Kameen would agree. I say this because a third key absence in the book is any direct reference to Kameen's (1980) article "Rewording the Rhetoric of Composition." Even when Kameen (2000: 151, 153) references it, it is not there: it is sub-versive—below the text. Kameen simply notes that in the past he wrote an article that argued that "grounding a rhetoric on audience-based concerns was conceptually problematic in ways that were being ignored and needed to be examined" (153). In "Rewording" he argues against both expressivist and audience-based pedagogies—finding each based on a reductive division between writers, language, and the world—and he uses Heidegger and Coleridge as primary conceptual alternatives.
Since it is clear that Kameen has done some theoretical homework, why is it absent from his book? That he does not "gesture" to these figures, concepts, and texts does not necessarily mean a devaluing of research or...