Monday, June 29, 2009

This beat is my recital

Without being too redundant, I found the chapter on appropriation from Jeff Rice’s The Rhetoric of Cool to be extremely, well, cool. Any bit of academic writing that manages to work in the Beats, early hip hop, and quotes both DJ Spooky and Chuck D is all right by me. If he only somehow worked in the Chicago Cubs and Bob Dylan, I would have been rendered absolutely head-over-heels.

I have a bunch of thoughts on this essay, all which I hope come up tomorrow in class and all which would make for worthwhile blog posts. I toyed with writing up several posts on different topics (i.e. Rice’s use of cool as unfixed signifier; his appropriation of black urban coolness, the very act he critiques Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm for clumsily attempting; the disjointed flow of Rice’s chapter, which may or may not have been compositional remix; how technological challenges shaped the efforts and output of early MCs), cutting them up, and pasting them together in a Burroughs-esque act of compositional subversion. Time was short, thought, and I wasn’t convinced that the results would be worth reading (much less deserving of a David Cronenberg adaptation).

So, I decided to go with a meditation on a short passage from page 65: “It’s not hard for us, contemporary writing instructors, to imagine a writer, who at the computer, appropriates and mixes. And yet in our teaching we don’t imagine such writers.” That’s a spot-on critique. I think of my own school’s district writing assessment, which rewards for formulaic essay structure and penalizes for use of other’s writings, via anti-plagiarism software. If appropriation is such a feature of (post)modern composition, as Rice argues it is, it’s a feature that is steadfastly avoided at the high school level.

But I wonder if the alternative is possible or even desirable? I can just see a student turning in a paper he got from and, once busted, claiming that it was plagiarized, just remixed. “I didn’t cheat—I was just sampling wikipedia. Read some DJ Shadow and get with the 21st century.”

This whole concept touches on multiple areas of contention: plagiarism, originality, privileged discourses, and genre/audience expectations, just to name a few. It’s tricky, but it makes me excited (and somewhat baffled) to be a writing teacher here at the apocalypse.

And, for something completely different, a cool bit of appropriation for you to enjoy:


Amy said...

Very nice post! Love the link to turnitin, especially. I, too, was pretty impressed with this article. I wish we had more time, in class, to play around with these ideas. It'd be so fun to collaboratively mix something larger than blog posts with our peers.

Elissa said...

My school just dropped turnitin, which I have never used. I agree about the way the system rewards formulaic writing. Lately we've been noticing, with ESL language proficiency measures as well as mainstream writing assessments, how the simpler, less sophisticated writing scores the points, where riskier, more creative, more interesting stuff does not.

Tom said...

Hi Jeff,

Enjoyed reading your take on Rice. While you seemed to absorb it readily, I struggled with it. I really struggled with his tone and with his assumptions. I did find much of what he said interesting and intelligent and often right on, just had a hard time with how he was saying it--so formulaic and un-cool, in a way. I think there is a difference in what the system expects of our student writers and what we as teachers expect. My guess is that as teachers, we always encourage mixing. We don't stifle creativity, at least, we don't try to. That's a fine line to tread, where we have to teach certain mainstream discourses while not crushing creativity. So, I think we often compensate by doing as much as we can to push creative thinking, to turn the picture around and look at it in as many dimensions as we can sneak in in that fifty-three minute class period! Thanks for your intelligent thoughts on Rice. They kind of temper mine a little bit.

Amy said...

Tom--I also agree with your comment about Rice's tone. I often rolled my eyes at the, "I'm-an-academic-only-speaking-to-other-academics" feel of it. I think this feeling, for me, may stem from the gap between high school teachers and university composition instructors that I see; I feel I'm always trying to bridge that gap, but never feel it reciprocated.

Tom Biel said...

Ditto Amy. I appreciated yours and Jeff's positive spin on the article--loosened up some of my blocks I had in place.

Joshua said...

Joyce, Amylia and I were just discussing this line of where appropriation "ends" and plagiarism "begins". If a student "remixes" an essay, is it original? If a student "composes" a piece using the ideas of another essay, is that original? What does it mean to be original? Great post, and I agree, it's such a great time to work in education, to see how student writing evolves.