Queer Ways of Knowing

Delighted to get my copy of the Writing Program Administration journal, 41.1 (Fall2017) with my review article, "Queer Ways of Knowing."  Here's an excerpt:

In the spirit of thinking openly—and being open—to a future of writing that cannot yet name what it knows about itself, I have begun to think of writing studies broadly, and my own writing program administration in particular, with both queer suspicion and a queer utopian hermeneutics in mind.  In terms of the former, I think a queer approach suggests we can—and should—interrogate how norms for proficiency shape expectations for writing.  A queer approach—with its valuing of excess, multiplicity, the odd, the stray, and even the unforeseen—might offer counter paths into both construing transfer and undertaking assessment—or at least a revaluation and re-appreciation of the complexity of writing and learning to write across multiple domains, platforms, and ecologies, as well as for a variety of situations, necessities, and possibilities.  Such might also attune us to the varying motivations for writing that differently situated folks bring to the classroom, to writing itself.  These possibilities put me in mind of the utopian, and I mean utopia in the sense of not just a future that is desired, but also—and here is the queer take on utopia a la Muñoz—a future that is ultimately not yet knownable, even as it is rooted in practice, in the ongoing necessity of living a life, making a living, and making a life work.  That is, I mean utopia in the sense of striving for the thing and the place and the being in the world that is not pre-determined, that we can only barely glimpse, and that we perhaps can’t even catch sight of yet at all.  With that striving in mind, as both a writing studies scholar and a WPA, I keep asking myself questions like these:  

  • To what extent does our field attempt to pre-determine the future of writing? 
  • Then to what extent does such a predetermination foreclose on an understanding of writing as an opening into the unknown?  
  • And then yet further, how might we use and understand writing to approach that unknown—openly, critically, carefully?

I was reminded recently of the need to remain open about my own understanding of writing—and of writing as the technology of opening into the not-yet known—by a study we've been conducting at UCI.  Over the past three years, we have been surveying senior-level students who have completed all of their writing requirements, asking them where they have felt they have learned the most about writing, both in curricular and extra-curricular contexts.  I’ve also asked them to define writing, to tell me what they think it is.  Of the nearly 150 responses we’ve collected so far, their overwhelming answer is that writing is a form of expression.  Not communication, not a strategy for information sharing, not a transferable skill, but expression.  There are many ways we could interpret this response, and it’s one that begs for interpretation precisely because I cannot locate in our formal curriculum any student-learning outcome or particular focus on the expressive dimensions of composing.  But I’m tempted to understand WRITING IS EXPRESSION, this student-driven naming of what they know about writing, to be a deeply felt and intuited understanding of writing as connecting who we are, and who we might be, across multiple identities, differences, collectivities, and potentialities.  Or, put another way, WRITING IS A CONFRONTATION WITH SELF, with what we know, and what we could know.  Thinking of my own experience as a writer, I know deeply that, through writing, we explore, encounter, contend, and create.  At times we repeat and reify existing norms and ways of thinking, but we also open ourselves to the not-yet-known.  We probe and invent; we generate thoughts, ideas, affects, feelings, and insights we didn’t know we had, or even could have.  Put another way, there’s something that seems to me a bit potentially queer about writing, as though the act of writing might itself be a queer utopian hermeneutic.  I can imagine some in our field suggesting that I’m overstating the case, and that we should hesitate to “define” either writing or queerness.  Agreed, so instead of defining, I want to ask: is there something potentially generative about pausing here to consider writing as the technology that opens us into the not-yet?