Mentoring, Teaching

On Meaningful Dialogue and “Being-With”

Today I participated in my first dissertation group meeting of the semester. As always, the experience of being in it reminds me of the pleasures of intellectual collaboration, especially coming out of a long winter break punctuated by slow, torturous attempts to get myself to “really” write. Although today’s conversation centered around two specific (and super exciting) prospectuses, what I found most exhilarating about the discussion was the affective energy it generated, which felt something like José Muñoz’s sense of “being-with.”

This feeling of togetherness, I believe, comes from a shared stake in meaningful dialogue, making the conversation matter to the people’s whose work we engage, but also to ourselves- the questions that pique our curiosities and drive our research. The best discussions for me are the ones where I not only contribute something useful to push someone else’s thinking, but also where I am pushed and pulled in return. This post is an attempt to capture the ineffable quality of these kinds of dialogues, which happen all too infrequently. Here are a few of the things today’s conversation invited me to reflect on more deeply:

The ways in which giving your work a title not only shapes someone else’s first encounter to it, but also allows you to really encounter your own project. It gives a particular shape to an idea that helps you illuminate the kernel, the center of gravity of what you are trying to do with your research. I have never thought about titles in this way before. I always approach titling a project with hesitation (and fear) because of the way that all labels somehow fall short. But thinking about the title as part of what a project can do feels like an opening, an approach that invites me to think about the conditions of possibility for my research.

If teaching is not about performing mastery, then what might the scene of teaching do? This is a question that has alway preoccupied me, but during this conversation it returned with particular urgency around the subject of teaching college writing. It reminded me of the ways in which my composition courses are organized around specific standards and protocols of writing and research that reproduce the heteronormative structures of disciplinarity and professionalization that my intellectual work and political commitments contest. I bristle at phrases like the “proper” academic research paper, the five-paragraph essay, and concepts like PIE paragraphs that break down writing into accessible formulas, but I have used these and related ideas in my classrooms. I have stressed the necessity of learning how to write for academic audiences and preparing yourself for professional careers, which makes me complicit in the forms of teaching that produce heteronormative student-subjects. Knowing this, how do we engage in the kind of teaching that makes our complicity in these structures of power visible? And, equally important, how do we create room for alternative pedagogies that do not present us as “masters” of our craft or engender “composed” student-subjects, but rather de-composes teachers and students? These are questions I have to continue to think about…

How “coloniality,” as a point of entry, can change our sense of time. While “modernity” marks the imposition of a universal, linear, and future-oriented movement of time, thinking through coloniality suggests a different temporal sensibility. If we are already living in coloniality, and continue to be complicit in the conditions that (re)produce it, then how might our conception of and ways of thinking about social justice have to change? This question about coloniality seems connected–in a way that I still have to tease out–to arguments about how the apocalypse is not some future “event,” but rather something that has already happened for many people all over the world and across space-time. How might our political work and scholarship be re-oriented if we recognize that we are living in a post-apocalyptic world? What kinds of conversations, challenges, and possibilities do we have to attend to?

I hope this brief account gestures at least in some way to the range of the conversation we had this morning, which moved in and out of the specific projects we looked at, to broader questions and speculations about writing, teaching, and the possibilities of social justice. In closing, I just want to acknowledge the privilege of being able to participate in dialogues like this; it comes from having a great mentor and generous colleagues who make time out of busy lives and numerous commitments to show up and talk to each other. I know that there are far too many who do not have the same kinds of opportunities, which is why I want, moving forward, to continue to think and write about how I can transform my classes into spaces that facilitate this sense of “being-with,” which has been and is such a powerful motivator and inspiration for my work.

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