Reviewed by Will Hochman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Christine Cucciarre, University of Delaware, Newark
Joseph Harris, University of Delaware, Newark, “Teaching the Essay in the Digital Age”
Christine Cucciarre, University of Delaware, Newark, “A Digital Humanity: Using Classical Rhetoric in the New Media Classroom”
My Best Escalator Ride
Christine Prince and Joe Harris and I flowed out of a session where Joe and Christine Cucciarre had helped us get excited about considering new text transitions from both paper and digital perspectives. One of the highpoints of the session was a digital essay Joe showed. It was a video of a student talking her essay into a screen with some video edits and a few clips of students talking as evidence. Although the student author had mispronounced Marshall McLuhan’s last name several times, the essay probably achieved more as a video than it ever could have as a paper argument. It displayed the author’s intelligence, insight and research. The Duke student was so convincing and sincere on the screen that I thought she was reading her ideas better than many of the folks at CCCC read theirs. Her delivery situated her writing in so many powerful ways that mispronouncing a source’s name was trivial compared to the analytical thinking and synthesis of others’ ideas.
At the end of the Q&A, an audience member commented on the video information that was part of her essay. The student collected clips of other students commenting on Doby’s death in Harry Potter to make a point in a way that would not have been as persuasive in paper. Joe agreed but added that he did not want to think all writing is an argument. Christine Prince and I agreed in an instant glance and buzzed on that point afterward as the audience exited. On the escalator down toward a well-deserved drink, I was telling Joe that I loved that he sees academic writing as more than argument. I often think all writing is an argument for interesting thinking and feeling, but I think students find modes to create reader interest that are not necessarily argumentative. I asked Joe if “analysis” could replace “argument” and Joe troubled that even more while we stepped onto the elevator. The next person on the escalator down was Andrea Lunsford. She gave me a significant nod and I was happy to be recognized. “Speak of the devil,” I said. We laughed with little awkwardness and Joe asked if she still believed that “everything is an argument.” “Yes,” she replied, “I can argue about anything.”
As we walked off in different directions, we laughed while remembering Woody Allen’s use of McLuhan in Annie Hall. I was thrilled to be buzzing with some of the best minds in our profession, but even happier with the ironic humor of the moment. As usual, Andrea Lunsford played her star part perfectly!
The truth is that I had to peel off and not take that drink with Joe and Christine to write this little snippet. It was too rich an experience to lose any words or idea of the glowing feeling that something special and extraordinary happened. Thanks to Joe and Christine and Andrea, I opened my laptop with my mind bouncing and followed the bouncing ball to these words bouncing onto the screen…like writing was the only game in town.