Academic journal article College English

EMERGING VOICES: The Geographies of History: Space, Time, and Composition

Academic journal article College English

EMERGING VOICES: The Geographies of History: Space, Time, and Composition

Article excerpt

"It is not that the interrelations between objects occur in space and time; it is these relationships themselves which create/define space and time."

-Doreen Massey ("Politics" 263)

"In acknowledging areas of both light and shadow, we suggest that there is a clear and present need to pay more attention to the shadows and to how unnoticed dimensions of composition history might interact with officialized narratives to tell a reconfigured, more fully textured story than we now understand."

-Jacqueline Jones Royster and Jean C. Williams (581)

This article is about the spaces of our disciplinary histories: spaces both real-and-imagined, the settings of our historical stories. It emanates from a fundamental premise: when we tell historical stories, we engage in spatiotemporal work, acting as the cartographers of disciplinary time. In this way it draws inspiration from Michel de Certeau, who, in his Practice of Everyday Life, reminds us that stories "traverse and organize places; they select and link them together; they make sentences and itineraries out of them" (115). Here, I want to draw attention to the interplay between space and time in these historical stories and how revisionist histories in composition-historical accounts that operate outside of what Jacqueline Jones Royster and Jean C. Williams call our disciplinary "dominant field of vision" (565)-reflect a broader move toward rethinking the relationship between space and time within systems of meaning. To do so, I focus on how works of revisionist historiography discursively represent space: how space is invoked and how we might read the political implications of these invocations. Through these close readings and theoretical interventions, this article seeks to provide tools, derived from critical spatial theory, to assess the politics of the story-maps we construct when we write historical stories, when we produce "spatial trajectories" (de Certeau 115).

A consideration of the spatial is not, currently, an altogether uncommon thing, with space and spatial inquiry very much being on the agenda in fields across the social sciences and humanities (Massey, "Politics" 249). Across disciplines, this turn toward the spatial has been prompted by the recognition that space is not the static, absolute field imagined in Euclidean geometry, but rather what Henri Lefebvre calls a "social morphology," an active producer and product of social relations (94; see also: Soja, Postmodern 81). Composition and rhetoric has been no exception in this broader spatial turn, with critics working to puncture notions of transparent disciplinary space and to draw attention to the specificity, politics, and dynamic nature of the spaces in which we work. This line of thinking has largely been concentrated in a strain of scholarship dedicated to what Scot Barnett and others call critical spatial theory, an umbrella term that includes postmodern spatial theory, cultural and human geography, critical cartography, and critical geography. Writing studies has, perhaps, a particular affinity for appeals to the spatial in that, as Nedra Reynolds notes, "writing itself is spatial, or we cannot very well conceive of writing in ways other than spatial" ("Composition's" 229). With this in mind, writing scholars have been interested in how the practice and product of writing, the ways we discuss writing, and the spaces in which writing and research occur contribute to the social production of space. 1

Yet while scholars in composition and rhetoric have drawn from critical spatial theory, their work has been largely misunderstood as distinct from-and indeed, seen as an alternative to-historical work in the field. This either/or relationship between spatial and historical thinking is evident in the dearth of work that explicitly brings them together but is perhaps most clear in Sidney Dobrin's contribution to composition's spatial turn. In "The Occupation of Composition," Dobrin writes, "Much more so than its embrace of the spatial, composition has entrenched itself in concepts of the temporal. …

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