Rapping About Rapping: Remembering Writing Studies

via BedfordStMartins.com

via BedfordStMartins.com

A month from today I will leave the house I share with my partner in Sunnyvale and I will fly from San Jose to Chicago to spend two days catching up with family and friends. On the 11th, I will pick up my UHaul and drive it to Michigan, collect my belongings from my boyfriend’s basement in Ann Arbor, hitch my much-missed Honda Civic to the back of the truck, and drive along the great lakes to Syracuse. TA orientation starts on August 14. 

In the last week or so I’ve been trying to work my brain back into the academic mindspace I left last December when I finished teaching and moved with my partner to Kalamazoo. Since then I’ve been writing fiction, blogging, reading a lot of novels, draining my savings, and savoring the slow life. Things are about to get hard, and quick. My partner and I will be separated for months at a time, and I’ll be diving into a really rigorous PhD program, teaching new material, trying to keep up with a cohort of colleagues who largely have MA’s in this field. I am lucky, and I am ready, but I am scared.

Yesterday the textbook for the freshman writing course I’ll be teaching this fall arrived: Writing About Writing, by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. I spent much of yesterday paging through it, reading the articles and working my brain into its editing style. It’s funny, because I remember at Michigan talking serious smack about the premise of writing about writing. “You have to write about something,” I said. “That’s why I teach my courses about hiphop: students need something to write about.” Of course, Wardle and Downs make a strong case that writing about writing is writing about something: writing studies is an academic field with content that writing students ought to study. There are scholars who study writing int he same way scholars study anthropology or philosophy. That’s the content a writing class should teach, and student writing should be about.

Of course I have some reservations about this material, but, as they say, Don’t Knock It Til You Try It. Yes, the volume’s editing is overdetermined and a bit treacly. Yes, I can’t shake my writer’s fondness for precision and clarity of language. That said, many of the lessons I made up for my students are basically codified in this book: that writing is drafting. That content is more important than grammar. That effective scholarship joins a conversation. That there’s no such thing as a “reliable source.” It feels good to have my hunches backed up by this book. And it feels great to trust the program I’m joining. Hell, I wouldn’t have uprooted my domestic life otherwise. I’d stay sitting pretty in California.

(Sidenote: I spent 4th of July weekend at my boyfriend’s family reunion in Montana. One morning, over breakfast, R’s cousin looks up and asks: “Is the Economist a reliable source?” An echo of Yeses whirs ’round the room. Except for curmudgeony ol’ me, who says, “What is a reliable source?” [Immediately wished I had kept my mouth shut.] Cousin says, “I want to know if The Economist is right about this X or Y technology that’s being released.” “Can you trust it for that?” I countered, “Probably. But can you take its interpretation of the news as pure fact, no. All sources have agendas and biases.” At which point Cousin’s mom, Aunt, pokes in. “Of course some sources are reliable,” she says. “I’ll prove it with an antonym: Wikipedia.” [At which point in my subsequent retelling, partner R just shook his head.] “What are you talking about!” I cry. “Lots of Wikipedia is accurate! And it’s all a ‘reliable’ artifact of acceptable public knowledge. It’s reliable as to what Wikipedia says about something!” Lots of shrugs go around the table. Cousin still wants to know can he “rely on” the Economist article. I take my tea and go back to our room. #longweekend . But fun, too.)

All to say that I’m going to have lots more to tell you this coming fall. This program is a big leap of faith for me: I already knew rap was literary, but I’m jumping to the conclusion that it’s rhetorical without tons of rhetorical knowledge to back me up. But I’ll have it soon. And I’ll be able to argue that RAP is Writing About Writing (or more like, Rapping about Rapping). Hiphop is meta and discourse formation and the rhetorical situation and writing about writing. I just can’t prove it yet. But stay tuned.

If you’re into all this rhetoricky stuff, I’ll leave you with a link to the blog I’ve been reading this morning, that of CCR faculty member Collin Brooke, who writes about lots of fun digital/social media-rhet-comp stuff. He quotes a Facebook comment from his colleague Doug Hesse:

We built the Web for pages, but increasingly we’re moving from pages to streams (most recently-updated on top, generally), on our phones but also on bigger screens. Sites that were pages have become streams. E.g., YouTube and Yahoo. These streams feel like apps, not pages. Our arrogance keeps us thinking that the Web is still about pages. Nope. The percentage of time we spend online looking at streams is rapidly increasing. It is already dominant.

And on that final note, I’ll add this little spring to my stream. Happy Tuesday, y’all.

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