English Composition as a Sonic Practice

Authored by: Byron Hawk , Greg Stuart

The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138671362
eBook ISBN: 9781315518497
Adobe ISBN:


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In English Composition as a Happening , Geoffrey Sirc wrote a counter-history of composition that entangled written composition with modern art. Duchamp and Pollock provided him with models of creative practice that countered both current-traditional formalism and composition’s emphasis on critical interpretation. Importantly, John Cage also figures prominently in Sirc’s conception of “composition-in-general.” Cage, he argues, valued life over art and experi mentation over formalisms, locating composition not in theory or institutions but in lived places and practices. This lived practice is what Sirc desires for his composition classrooms—the creation of an environment “where anything can happen,” where an experimental practice can be deployed through a curriculum. Jody Shipka has taken up this kind of experimental practice in her composition pedagogies in relation to found objects, as she shows in Toward a Composition Made Whole , but also in relation to chance. Instead of summarizing and discussing readings, for example, she puts students into presentation groups and asks them to “enact, challenge, extend, update” key concepts, arguments, or approaches in the readings by creating an activity for the class. In one session,

the presenting group created six differently themed activity stations around the classroom. Upon entering the classroom, students were put into groups based on a learning style survey the presenting group had assigned earlier in the semester. Groups each rolled one die to determine which of the six activity stations they would work at for the first seven minutes of class. Once everyone was in place at their first station, the presenting group offered a constraint to the group. This constraint determined how the activity would be undertaken by the group. … Every seven minutes the group called time and a die was rolled again to determine where students would go next. At this time, a new constraint was offered to the group. … The roll of the die determined who, if anybody, and/or how many people might be working at the same station. (“Happening”)

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