Like the last three chapters of McComiskey’s Teaching College Composition as a Social Process, I have much to say, and too much to think about when it comes to his text. This chapter culminates my entire view of what is at stake in not just teaching college composition, but in being human. To approach each other in symmetrical, reciprocal difference is to view us all as others—human each-others.
Maybe this comes from having read a good deal of Derrida on my own. Maybe it is because I’ve relied upon more holistic ways of thinking about a global culture my entire life, and never felt like disparity and segregation were ever positive means of treating each other. Like I said, it might be me.
I could quote this whole thing and go line-by-line through it to discuss all the interesting, inflectional turns my friend Bruce makes. But I don’t have time for that. And you all might be bored. Are any of you even reading this anyway? So, I’ll stick to two.
Discursive formations (networks of language, terministic screens that condition perception and organize power relations) normalize human agents, presenting to them modes of discourse that do not threaten the status quo and concealing from them potentially liberatory modes of discourse. (70)
This is a direct reference to Foucault’s work in our field. What McComiskey does by this is show how our dominant discourse censors us, and “normalizes” us into more verbally palatable sameness. This very act of normalization seeks to take away our inherent differences—our ways of being in the world—and lumps us into form-fitting categories. But this is a violation of human nature. We are different, collectively. In order to account and resist lumping categories that restrict our identities, we need to see things and every each-other’s differences differently.
Here we look, at great length, McComiskey’s take on Derrida (be still my heart):
This paradoxical practice, this opening of the heading to the other, this postmodern formation of identity in alliance with difference (rather than in modernist opposition to it) implies a number of duties: “welcoming foreigners in order not only to integrate them but to recognize and accept their alterity” ; “criticizing a religion of capital that institutes its dogmatism under new guises,” and “cultivating the virtue of such critique, of the critical idea, the critical tradition, but also submitting it, beyond critique and questioning, to a deconstructive genealogy that thinks and exceeds it without yet compromising it” (77); assuming “an idea of democracy” that is “never simply given” and “remains to be thought”; “respecting differences, idioms, minorities, singularities, but also the…desire for translation, agreement and univocity, the law of the majority, opposition to racism, nationalism, and xenophobia” (78); “respecting all that is not placed under the authority of reason,” such as faith (78-79). We all have the duty, the responsibility to “think, speak, and act in compliance with this double contradictory imperative” (79). Through these practices, Derrida argues, we can articulate postmodern subjectivities that are not mutually exclusive, and we can live in a postmodern world without being paralyzed by the violence of warring factions. (74)
I suppose it is most useful to unpack this dense quote a bit. Derrida does something really different (pun!) with what most of us may see as the pomo blues; he actually rationalizes it—maybe even “normalizes” it. How is this possible?! C’est tres possible! Derrida pushes us to see postmodernism as the mechanism for change in regard to acceptance from the troubling “modernist opposition”. Because of the ruptures in structuralism and fragmentation within modernism, postmodernism’s lean toward deconstruction leaves room for difference. In a lot of ways, postmodernism is in constant deconstruction with itself. This is why we have trouble getting ourselves outside (or past) it. Yet for all of its chaos, postmodernism’s self-created ruptures are where the essences of difference reside.
Postmodern identities are, I argue, sustainably uncomposed. This means that the very chaos that creates the pomo blues also requires that we consistently negotiate our identities upon reaching new information. This brings us back to McComiskey’s earlier argument (Chapter 2 was it?) where he says negotiation is necessary for social process rhetorical inquiry. I believe so. At any rate, this is what postmodernism mandates: negotiation. Without firm centres of information localizing us permanently, we must negotiate and renegotiate who we are within new discourses as they appear and resonate in our lives. And here is difference ever-seeking us out. Be it new cultural discourses, marginality, (dis)ability, ad infinitum, we are made aware of difference at every discursive venture and adventure. To submit to this (t)ruth is to normalize postmodernism, and thus, deconstruct it. How? Well that is another post, isn’t it?