H.11: Bodies of Evidence: Cultivating Embodied Intelligence in the Writing Classroom
Reviewed by Ellen O'Connell Whittet, University of California, Santa Barbara (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Deborah Coxwell-Teague, Florida State University
Speakers: Meg Scott-Copses, College of Charleston, "What a Feelin': Flashdance in the Writing Classroom"
Amy Hodges Hamilton, Belmont University, "Nurturing the Persona: Trauma and Personal Writing in the Composition Classroom"
Sarah Blomeley, Belmont University, "'If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?': Delivery and the Rhetoric of Country Music"
When we teach writing to students in the confines of a classroom, we often use Quintilian’s language of Western and male-dominated systems of knowledge, asking that writing be muscular, forceful, productive, and utility-bearing (Brody, 1993). Students are asked to privilege their cerebral experiences, learning that scholarly knowledge is purely analytical and opposed to feeling or emotion. This panel challenged these biases by subverting the mind/body binary, showing the mind as not only dependent on the body for its survival, but for its power and creativity. This allowed the three speakers to point out how embodied rhetorical praxis in the classroom allows new, often historically silenced, voices to emerge.
Meg Scott-Copses began the panel by asking the audience to stand for a dance-style warm-up with her. When the music began, we followed her instructions to stretch and move our necks, rolling them from side to side, then did the same with our shoulders, arms, hips, and legs, an order which she pointed out is used in both dance and composition classes. She played us various soundtracks she listens to during her own writing projects, ranging from returning emails to conducting research, before asking the audience to volunteer music we listen to as we work, and whether we could think of any accompanying gestures.
She asked us to read various quotes she'd handed out ahead of time related to embodiment theory and pedagogy, and after dancing and reciting together, the feeling in her panel was more inclusive, more participatory, and allowed for faster and more intimate discussion, demonstrating how the classroom dynamic changes when the paradigm of writing is shifted to include bodies.
Some of the classroom prompts Scott-Copses suggested involved considering the time of day we most like to write, and retracing our bodies' experience of that time. We offered what we think contributes to our writing success at, say, early morning rather than mid-afternoon, citing reasons related to our feelings of being at rest, calm, and private.
Interestingly, Scott-Copses cited students with keener body intelligence, including athletes, as particularly benefitting from this approach to writing. This style may invite them to share their lived and felt experiences, working from the body up.
The second presenter in the panel, Amy Hodges Hamilton, continued the conversation on physical and conceptual modes and purposes of composing. She said that we're teaching in a post-traumatic century, citing student interviews and written examples of how writing from bodies makes inroads into writing about trauma.
Hodges Hamilton played video interviews with four students whose lived experiences included cancer, childhood sexual abuse, disability, and an eating disorder. She asked each of the young women how their bodies came into their writing process, asking if they re-imagined or felt the experience through writing. All four writers shared how the experience was both personal and social, explaining how it shaped them to share this writing with classmates during workshops and peer reviews.
A traditional writing classroom, argued Hodges Hamilton, silences the stories of our bodies. By asking students to actually shift their focus from their minds, they were using their bodies as their source, thereby relocating their source of knowledge.
In the last presentation, Sarah Blomeley gave a mini-lesson she often uses in her class on country music rhetoric at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. After defining "delivery" as "the embodied presentation of an argument," Blomeley played the clip she uses in her class, a classic country "answer song" of women singers responding to men’s "bro country." The clip, from "Girl in a Country Song" (Dye et al., 2015) by Maddie & Tae, featured two young blonde singers responding to various tropes about nameless women in country music, using men in music video roles traditionally reserved for sexualized women (e.g., washing a car in a bikini or wearing short skirts and cowboy boots). The singers take their male counterparts to task, demonstrating key points in rhetoric including invention, style, and exigence.
Arguments, said Blomeley, come from bodies, not just minds, citing Roxanne Mountford's (2003) The Gendered Pulpit and Lindal Buchanan's (2005) Regendering Delivery for definitions of traditionally-defined terms of voice, tone, and gestures. What difference would it make, for example, asked Blomeley, if this argument were delivered from a different body? How do the singers' race, gender, ableism, age, and weight affect their delivery? In a culture of country music as conservatism, aligned with patriotism and religious fundamentalism (Bufwack and Oermann, 2003), this country "answer song's" argument is feminist within strict parameters of one specific body. From here, conversations of privilege naturally emerge in the classroom.
Blomeley finished by pointing out the panel does not require students to write about their bodies, but invites them, allowing new voices and embodied experiences to relocate language, knowledge, and rhetoric from a cerebral mode of composition to a physical one.
In a 2012 article in Composition Studies, A. Abby Knoblauch argued that, by focusing on their bodies' response "as a trigger for meaning making that is rooted so completely in the body, embodied response is rarely legitimated in academia" (p. 54). However, when we ask students to respond to what they read, isn't much of what we're asking them to do based on their "gut reactions," or their first bodily responses? Asking them to describe the response, according to these panelists, to try to create a response in their own audience, is key to scholarly success, a driving force behind modes and purposes of composing and recomposing their lived and written experiences.
Brody, Miriam. (1993). Manly writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Buchanan, Lindal. (2005). Regendering delivery. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Bufwack, Mary A. & Oermann, Robert K. (2003). Finding her voice: Women in country music, 1800-2000. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Knoblauch, A. Abby. (2012). Bodies of knowledge: Definitions, delineations, and implications of embodied writing in the Academy. Composition Studies, 40(2), 50-65.
Dye, Taylor, Marlow, Maddie, & Scherz, Aaron. (2015). Girl in a country song (Recorded by Maddie & Tae). On Start here (Digital). Nashville, TN: Dot Records & Republic Nashville. (July 15, 2014)
Mountford, Roxanne. (2003). The gendered pulpit. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.