Compelled to Write

Compelled to Write: Alternative Rhetoric in Theory and Practice

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 255
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  • Book Info
    Compelled to Write
    Book Description:

    David Wallace argues that any understanding of writing studies must include the conception of discourse as an embodied force with real consequences for real people. Informed in important ways by queer theory, Wallace calls to account users of dominant discourses and at the same time articulates a theory base from which to interpret "alternative rhetoric." To examine the practice of writing from varied margins of society, Compelled to Write offers careful readings of four exemplar American writers, each of whom felt compelled within their own time and place to write in response to systemic injustices in American society. Sarah Grimké, a privileged white woman advocating for abolition, is forced to defend her right to speak as a woman; Frederick Douglass begins his public career almost as a curiosity (the articulate ex-slave) and ends it as one of the most important rhetors in American history; Gloria Anzaldúa writes not only in multiple languages and dialects but from marginalized positions related to gender, race, class, sexual identity, and physical abled-ness; David Sedaris uses his privileged position as a middle-class white male humorist to speak unabashedly of his sexuality, his addictions, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Through these writers, Wallace explores a range of strategies that comprise alternative rhetorical practice, and demonstrates how such practice is inflected by social constraints on rhetorical agency and by how writers employ alternative discourses to resist those constraints. Grounding and personalizing Compelled to Write with rich material from his own teaching and his own experience, Wallace considers a number of implications for teachers of writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-813-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
    (pp. 1-2)
  4. 1 DEFINING ALTERNATIVE RHETORIC: Embracing Intersectionality and Owning Opacity
    (pp. 3-38)

    Could it be that we just don’t know ourselves? That the very words we use to speak ourselves to others obscure as much as they elucidate? That we emerge only in the cracks when words fail to perform as we have come to expect them to?

    Could it be that we fail words by forgetting they are not/can never be disembodied but continue to exist only as we speak/write/display them? That we suffer from the illusion that when we speak we have not already been spoken?

    Some of us are compelled to write because we cannot escape daily reminders that...

  5. Interchapter: PIANO LESSONS
    (pp. 39-41)

    Mr. Elkin always wore a coat and tie as he sat on a chair turned away from the dining room table and toward the piano where I sat, banging out C-D-E, “bone sweet bone,” E-D-C, “bone sweet bone,” C-D-E-D-E, “it’s my favorite song,” using only my thumb firmly planted on middle C and my forefinger and middle finger anchored to the D and E keys right above middle C. Mr. Elkin seemed overdressed for a Tuesday afternoon in our dining room with its worn green linoleum floor, and he must have been bored out of his mind as I stumbled...

  6. 2 SARAH GRIMKÉ: Breaking the Bonds of Womanhood
    (pp. 42-66)

    Sarah Grimké’s Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women, published in 1838, is widely recognized as the first systematic treatment of women’s rights to be published by an American woman.¹ Indeed, feminist scholar and Grimké biographer Gerda Lerner argues that Grimké’s Letters “anticipated by dozens of years the main points advocates of woman’s rights would make for the next century” (1998, 26). The story of how this text came to be written and how it has come to the attention of feminist scholars only in the last forty years, and even more recently to feminist...

    (pp. 67-71)

    “Um, I think it’s mostly a matter of confidence.” By this my brother meant that I lacked confidence.

    It was one of the first serious talks Dan and I ever had. I was living at home again after college and nine harrowing months at seminary; he was just eighteen. We were talking about the conversation I had with the man I rescued in the snowy parking lot of the mall by giving his car a jump start. I knew it was better to attach the ground cable to my engine block, but the man had insisted that connecting it to...

  8. 3 FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Taking an Ell to Claim Humanity
    (pp. 72-114)

    Some of the most frightening kinds of arguments outsiders have been forced to make in American history and culture are claims in which they seek status as humans. Many groups have had to argue for the recognition of their full personhood: American Indians calling for the recognition of their very existence in what were seen as unsettled lands; American slaves seeking the right to literally own their own bodies, share in the fruits of their labors, and maintain their family relationships; American women seeking the right to vote, own property, and control their ability to reproduce the species; and American...

  9. Interchapter: PICKLES
    (pp. 115-117)

    The surgeon appears at the glass door that separates the waiting room from the operating suite, clad in dark blue-green scrubs, a surgical mask untied and hanging below his chin, and a loose puffy paper hat gathered by a thin elastic band that reminds me of my mother’s shower cap clinging absurdly to his mostly bald head. We stand as a group, moving toward him, Dad in the lead. The doctor opens the door and stands half in and half out, one hand holding the door three-quarters open and one hand resting on the door jamb, his head and torso...

  10. 4 GLORIA ANZALDÚA: Borderlands and Fences; Literacy and Rhetoric
    (pp. 118-158)

    Here Gloria Anzaldúa suggests that writing is more than communicating, that it is about the creation and negotiation of identity that challenges the pejorative ways American society defined her and about filling in and filling out the gaps dominant culture created. Her words remind me that until my mother’s second cancer surgery, I did not write anything that mattered. Although there were a few articles and book chapters on my vita by that point, none of those were things I was compelled to write—things that were necessary for my survival, for articulating myself to a society that had marginalized...

  11. Interchapter: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
    (pp. 159-161)

    I have always wanted to write about that day Dad said that I shouldn’t be split, that I should be the same person no matter where I am, that the Bible says we are to be the “light of the world.” I sorely wish I could remember his words exactly because I took them as a rebuke, a sermon but I don’t know if Dad intended them that way. The conversation happened some time during my teens when Dad and I were working on some project around the house or yard. Although I didn’t know it then, these are the...

  12. 5 DAVID SEDARIS: Expanding Epideictic—A Rhetoric of Indirection
    (pp. 162-201)

    David Sedaris would likely be bemused to know that anyone considers him a rhetorician, much less a purveyor of alternative rhetoric. As the opening epigraph indicates, Sedaris steadfastly refuses to claim his work has any purpose other than humor. Thus, from the outset I must acknowledge that Sedaris is not compelled to speak out against injustice in the same ways as Grimké, Douglass, or Anzaldúa. He is much less direct than the other three authors in using his experiences with marginalization to expose fault lines of difference and discrimination in American society. Yet even a casual reader of Sedaris’s work...

  13. Interchapter: DAY FOUR IN PARIS
    (pp. 202-204)

    Vitor sleeps in the bed I rent for 155 euros a night. He’s the third man to be in that bed with me, but the first to get under the covers and the first man to sleep with me for nearly a year. He lies there, the soft Paris morning light filtering through the gap in the drapes that shade the garret window. He wants to sleep until 11:30 because couture week is incredibly hectic, and he sniffed lines twice yesterday—once to wake up after only three hours’ sleep to schedule models until 10 p.m. and once at 11...

    (pp. 205-241)

    Put most simply, engaging in alternative rhetoric means, as Butler argues, risking ourselves in moments of unknowingness, loosing ourselves from the moorings of dominant culture and discourse and striking out into uncharted waters. The potential benefit is becoming more fully human, becoming something other than what has been prescribed, and having the opportunity to take up a kind of rhetorical agency that engages dominant culture and discourse rather than accepting their dictates. Doing so is a risk, as it will likely require a redefinition of the self in regard to the discourses of power.

    The basic question I address in...

  15. Interchapter: God Abhors You
    (pp. 242-243)

    the sign read, and the first letter of each word was printed in bright yellow to insure that readers would see exactly who its bearer believed god abhors. The sign was carried by a member of group of evangelical Christians protesting the Southern Decadence Parade. I first saw them the previous Friday evening, strategically positioned between Oz and the Pub, the two big gay bars on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets. The group of mostly men stood in a loose circle dripping in the humid New Orleans heat, all under the watchful eyes of several New Orleans...

    (pp. 244-249)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 250-255)
    (pp. 256-256)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)