2019 CCCC Annual Convention
March 13–16, 2019
Program Chair: Vershawn Ashanti Young
Call for Proposals
Rhetoric is one of the peas—composition is the other—in our disciplinary pod.
Yet the institutions, publics, and students we serve often think rhetoric is simply “words, words, words.” And sometimes, we in the discipline wanna take our two peas and pick them outta they one pod, where rhetoric be in the mind, while composition be the written manifestation of that internal work. But, hold up! What if we think of rhetoric and composition as live, as embodied actions, as behaviors, yes, as
performances inside of one pod—our discipline—that lead to the creation of texts, to presentations, that invite mo performances and certainly mo co-performances?
Come join me in Pittsburgh for CCCC 2019.
We gon show up, show out, practice, and theorize performance-rhetoric and performance-composition. Ahm talkin bout buttressing the public good and engaging communication pedagogies that open possibilities, many of them yet unknown—in reading, writing, speaking, listening, visuality, and digital communication. I prod you to raise new questions about performance-rhetoric, performance-composition, or you can ruminate on one of mine:
- What benefit could performance-rhetoric yield for understanding how the body relates to composition practices?
- What does performance-composition do for increased acquisition and demonstration of robust communication skills, not just for our students, but for us all?
- How can performance-rhetoric foster a translingual orientation toward language and literacy?
- What does performance-composition offer to the practice and understanding of the everyday linguistic practice of code-meshing?
- How can performance-rhetoric unearth old but gold theoretical practices that lead to exciting, inventive, and stimulating pedagogical dimensions?
- How can performance-composition help us to keep on keeping on, keep strutting our stuff, keep us woke bout our responsibilities to antiracism, to practicing class, gender, and social justice?
As you prepare yo proposal, also note that the structure of CCCC 2019 will be based on the traditional cluster system. Ahm also planning special programming, including workshops on Saturday of the convention for local K–12 teachers to explore hip-hop pedagogies and performative writing/communication.
I have asked a few of our colleagues, yeah, a few of my homies, to offer they thoughts on the terminological and theoretical functions of performance-rhetoric and performance-composition in the work that we [can] do. Because these peeps will also be Stage II reviewers, they will help determine the accepted proposals and help shape the conference program. So, I hope you will pay special attention to the knowledge they spittin. (Also see the vid of some of these scholars discussing the concepts Performance-Rhetoric and Performance-Composition.)
Vershawn Ashanti Young
2019 Program Chair
By emphasizing writing as performance art, I embrace a theory of embodied knowledge that challenges dominant institutions’ biases for standardization. “While intellectual rigor has long been measured in terms of standard linguistic acuity and print production that reinforce the dominant culture’s deep meanings, performance art is suspect because of its ephemeral, emotional,” (Joni Jones, “Sista Docta,” 1997: 53) critical, malleable, and imaginative nature.
Thinking about writing as performance brings together critical issues of language and identity, such as the meanings writers bring to words and how words work in the world. “Performance challenges Composition Studies to refocus its attention away from fixing the discipline to stretching it, opening the definition of ‘composing’ and requiring us to be open to periods of indecision and flux” (Meredith Love, “Composing Through the Performative Screen,” 2007).
The lens of performance spotlights the interpretive possibilities of both rhetoric and composition. Performance-rhetoric is composed to mean. Performance-composition, at some point, throws up its hands and says, “You take it from here.” As such, performance is a productive filter for considering most of my collaboratively authored works: musical compositions and recordings; edited, digital-video productions; scholarly -ogy texts (methodology, pedagogy); syllabi, writing prompts, and curricula. Each of these performances of art, inquiry, and pedagogy has emerged through acts of collaborative composition—partnerships that blur actors and audience, influence and invention, creation and interpretation, what (all) is said and what (all) is heard. Performance-rhetoric and performance-composition may have their say, but rarely the last word.
Performance-rhetoric is speaking and writing in which the rhetor—a social justice warrior or accomplice, say—puts her money where her mouth is—not just saying what she thinks but doing it too in the words she chooses and the manner of her speech or writing. When we speak or write, we are making our relations: affiliating, disaffiliating, transforming who we think we are or could be with and for others. There’s no quicker way to demolish affiliations across lines of difference than by saying one thing and by one’s words doing another. But one powerful way of beginning to move from the selfish side of the self/other binary to articulating at the joint or point of interdependence between us is to deliberately, reflectively reach for performativity: for being and becoming just as we advocate for justice.
Performance courageously courts unpredictability; so, it’s risk-taking. Performance envelopes activity with style; so, it’s attentionseeking. Performance recombines rhetorics’ means and sensoria and inheritances, chancing spectral composites. Shouldn’t we, then, insofar as carrying out this discipline’s work, invite, prime, and elicit performance more expansively?
Performance-rhetoric/-composition rests on the premise, put forward and explained by Kenneth Burke, J. L. Austin, and many others, that language has the capacity to act, to do things and to make things happen in the world. Students can see such performances at work from the revolutionary American Declaration of Independence to a current Kickstarter site whose statements/images are so compelling that they elicit spontaneous donations. A second premise underlying performance rhetoric/composition is its epistemic ability: performance-rhetoric/composition not only records thought or knowledge but rather has the capacity to produce and perform both.
It’s always been clear to me, this connection between rhetoric and performance. Performance-rhetoric elucidates the movement of language and the ways that words do. It brings to consciousness the ways in which languages and bodies co-mingle and our desire for words to prompt action. Indeed, performance-rhetoric is both playful and generative, but at all times dangerous and risky. In the end, it is a process insistent on connection, reminding us that we are agile animators of words who cannot stand still but must stretch out for the hands of others.
Performance-rhetoric offers crucial spaces in our pedagogies and research for listening to, interacting with, and learning from diverse voices, experiences, and literacy practices unfairly silenced in US society. In two-year college writing classrooms where I teach, students choose hip hop as a performance-rhetoric to vibe with, research, and connect to their writing. Students often highlight that hip hop, with its intellectual flow, revolutionary critiques, and intricate rhymes and rhythms, offers a needed place for marginalized voices to speak up and back to individuals and institutions that perpetuate racism and classism. Hip hop as a performance-rhetoric brings those individuals who are forgotten by society to the center of a conversation through art. Spitting fire on the mic since ’94, MC Nas echoes this sentiment when defining his role in hip hop: “I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it.”
Jerry Won Lee:
In thinking about “performance,” I am drawn to the question of language, specifically in terms of what kinds of language and what kind of languages are imagined as “appropriate” for “academic” use. Maybe it’s time to shift the expectation of “performing appropriately with language” to the “performative through language,” in the sense of language as doing and reconstituting. This way, we can start imagining radical possibilities for what “appropriate” is in the first place.
When I write as an academic, I leverage both the cultural and performative possibilities of rhetoric. It allows me to center alternative voices and stories that are relegated to the margins and to reclaim them as sites for knowledge making and theory building. As a researcher, it allows me to explore the performative potential of literacy by Black and Latino students that I mentor at The Black Male Initiative. Performance-composition as a liberatory practice permits me to assert my voice as a counterstory to the memory of dramatic struts and cadences sung in rhythm by a military father who performatively spoke a language of shining Black masculinity with his body. Performance-composition as a cultural rhetorical practice affords me the opportunity to interrogate prevailing epistemologies, canons, and linear rhetorical traditions that are used to sanction curriculums and shape education policies and political agendas.
When a brother hears performance-rhetoric immediately a brother thinks of how “stiff” White people sometimes be (the emphasis on mimicking it) and thinks about the “cool pose” associated with young Black men (the emphasis on avoiding it). Both reflect cool, calm, and collectedness when faced with adversity, but they ain’t tantamount: the cool pose marks terrorism, indifference, anti-intellectualism. In pop culture, the cool pose is unsophistication rather than a serious, very real way of existing for Black people; one that if harnessed, respected, demonstrated more, could usher in a new era of re/presenting. Think of Obama’s dusting dirt off his shoulder—POTUS performing collectedness a la Jay-Z..
David F. Green Jr.:
Performance is never merely a set of rehearsed acts, but a way of achieving competence through repetition and embodied action. I find this to be true with regards to the study of writing and rhetoric specifically; thus, whether we openly acknowledge this or not, written or oratorical performances are always attempts to refashion or remix sedimented assumptions about identity and language competence provided by the communities we are born into or step into. Moreover, the decisions we make to demonstrate our respective competencies to those same communities are in many ways shaped by what we come to believe about rhetoric either explicitly or intuitively. From a pedagogical perspective this understanding of rhetoric and performance becomes a valuable way of acknowledging that texts, experiences, and writing are always given meaning according to time, place, and context, and that this requires an attentiveness to the way developing writers come to view and produce meaning through shared performances, by those who value the progressive possibilities of rhetoric and writing instruction.
Douglas S. Kern:
Performance rhetoric is an encounter of action or inaction—the way one might perform their silence, arms crossed, to elicit discomfort or embody resistance. It’s pursuit vs. obstacle. We employ performance rhetoric to achieve whatever ends we seek. When you’re talking to your mother, don’t ya act a certain way? The waiter down the street, don’t he act a certain way when he’s bringing you your food? The performative act gives birth to or fosters the essential discourses which pop up all around us (both academic and beyond).