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Reflections on Ethan’s presentation

by on November 4, 2010

I was really impressed and intrigued by Ethan’s talk today and wanted to do some think-aloud here as a way of solidifying some thoughts for myself as I continue to think about what my own project is attempting and ways to represent the the theoretical, material, and rhetorical work that surrounds and grows from this project. Then, in a more direct fulfillment of this week’s blog assignment, I’m going to post again in response to a funny little memory Laura reminded me of before dropping me off at home this evening….

First, let me say how enjoyable it was to watch Ethan present on the Question Cart… I was impressed by (and envious of) the ease with which he was able to talk about the very complex work we’ve been dealing with this quarter, and I appreciated (but was not surprised by) the professional-yet-approachable affect that he was able to take on even while behind a podium. I say I ws unsurprised because Ethan’s blog writing, too, seems to affect this same persona.

The project itself seemed much bigger to me in this different space of presentation/conversation. Certainly the formality of the occasion contributes to this, but I think a bigger factor was hearing the project discussed as an object of study embedded in a broader history/context and in a much bigger conversation that includes–in a more explicit way–theorists/critics we’ve read as well as our colleagues/associates in the audience. And of course seeing the film projected on a “big screen” in a more “public” environment felt different than watching it in pajamas on a laptop. This is all to say that while the project has really interested me from the start, I felt even more captivated by it in this other space of presentation, and I’m eager to read Ethan’s draft.

As I said to Christina and Laura on our walk down the block, I was really happy that Christina asked about public intellectualism, because I’ve been chewing on this quite a bit in relation to my project, and it was one of the things I asked CSelfe about during our phone conversation last week. As I think I’ve written before, I didn’t think very hard about most of the decisions I made in my initial design of TFP. I pulled the site together pretty quickly, and only later began to think/write about the rhetorical work of those choices, some of which I later revised (description of “failure narrative,” for example) and some of which I preserved (writing from a first-person-plural point of view). One thing I did–and continue to–think quite a bit about, though, was how to represent my personal subjectivity. I felt from the get-go that I didn’t want to associate the project with my “intellectual” work in any way–at least not publicly. I felt conflicted about this even in my resolution to bracket that particular detail. Is it misleading or deceptive of me to withhold the institutional exigence and future of the project? Is it unethical to design and use the archive for my own scholarly purposes without informing participants of those plans? I asked CSelfe if the affiliation between the DALN and OSU helps, hinders, or is even a factor in participants’ willingness to contribute their own literacy story. She first said that she is always up front about who she is, but then backpedaled. “Generally I try to tell people who I am and where I come from. [Long pause]. But then now that you say it, I don’t introduce myself that way. I say “Hi.” Not until we do IRB forms does that info really come up.”

What I’m thinking about as I’m writing this now is that Ethan’s project seems to me firstly concerned with participatory public art and secondly with the theorization of the project in a scholarly venue (moving from the outside in), while my project moves in the opposite way–from an institutional/scholarly interest toward something broader and more publicly-facing. (Note: I don’t mean to set up this icky dichotomy here between public and scholarly institutions… The Question Cart was always scholarly/theoretically informed, but it was always about community activism before it was about scholarship–at least as I understand it–while TFP was first about research and then became about a wider community.) And so I wonder if this makes a difference in revealing or concealing our intellectual subjectivities or not…

Finally, I appreciated very much hearing about the process of this project, even as it is still very much in-process, and I’d love to know more about how the rapidity of it all introduced certain constraints and freedoms to the process and final product (which I think is what Jana was asking about). The process was the central point of interest for the audience as well, which foregrounds for me the importance of thinking through my own process carefully and critically as I continue to tinker with and write about the site.

I might have more to say about this later, but wanted to get these thoughts down before they escaped my feeble brain forever…



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