List

Sanchez, Raul.  “Outside the Text: Retheorizing Empricism and Identity.”  College English 74 (3) 234-246.

  • Sanchez begins by recognizing that the study of writing over the past 40 years has resulted in an expanded notion of textuality – what Susan Miller has called the “textual world” or what Derrida terms the “general field of writing” (234).  This expansion pushes composition research beyond the idea of text toward the “overarching context in which to situate texts more intricately in relation to other components of the world” (ibid.).
  • The binary that Sanchez promotes is composed of “the writer” or the material object of inquiry that empiricists use to ground their work and the “subject” – an immaterial, non-Cartesian theoretical construct that dissolves a unified subjectivity and instead posits writing and the writer as relationship between subjects and objects in the fields of discourse (234-5).  As such, the subject and the writer have historically not been interchangeable – the subject is theorized “systematically” while the writer is “encountered materially and individually” (235).
  • According to Sanchez, “the writer” has historically occupied the center of composition research; as such, composition studies has adopted a “realist discourse” that recognizes that the writer is “implicated in complex textual relations but who is, in the final analysis, outside of textuality, not caught in the play of difference” (235).
  • S. claims that “network and new media technologies” have allowed researchers to begin tracing the materiality of textuality, bringing together lived experience as subject and composing as writer.  This results in the “experience of thoroughgoing textuality” that is “approaching transparency:  one is not inclined to marvel at the idea that texts can traverse large physical spaces in almost no time, or at the idea that people work intimately with these texts in the fusion of technology and bureaucracy known as the information economy” (ibid.).  This results in a situation where “events have caught up with theory” and “the discourse of the subject, which had been plainly abstract in the past, might now also be made seemingly material and therefore available to a kind of empirical research and to pedagogical practice” (ibid.).
  • Bringing the material writer together with the immaterial/theoretically elaborated subject results in the figure of the “writing-subject” – a figure that we can take up in research to reveal the complex relationships between agency and textuality.
  • Taking “identity” as the key term to describe this interstitial space, Sanchez claims that identity can describe the liminal space of “traffic” between textuality and the “outside textuality, the aspect with which composition studies historically is most concerened: agency” (236).  Focusing in on both the agency of the individual writer and the flows and circulations that bear on that writer will be absolutely necessary to bring these two positions together.  Sanchez’s quick definition of where identity comes from:  “Identity is a result of the fact that things happen to people and that people try to make sense of these things” (241).
  • The theory of the “writing-subject” is centrally concerned with “how texts are made, distributed, received, and redistributed in contemporary systems” (237).  To do this, S. recommends researchers adopt both modernisms and postmodernisms as “historicized, mapped, and incorporated” (ibid.).
  • Sanchez seems to invert Shumway’s argument that we’re all postmodernists by claiming that we are all actually empiricists:  “There is something more than hardheaded “common sense” behind the idea that the objects in the world can be percieved and described.  The idea of difference – and thereby a relationship – between things and symbols for things results from the fact that symbols exist.  In this very basic sense, regardless of whether we strenuously object or adhere to empiricism as a viable method by which to study writing, empiricism abides nonetheless, and we are therefore all empiricists” (237).
  • S. recognizes the import of Latourian methodology for this new empiricism, noting that ANT exists because Latour claimed that “we don’t have very good descriptions of anything” because “we underestimate the inherent and deep complexity of objects and we mischaracterize their relationship to other objects, including the interpretive frameworks we impose on them” (ibid.).  The solution isn’t to fall back on an existing methodological framework but to recognize the flux of relationality between and among writer-subjects.
  • S. notes that adopting this new empiricism “might be to take one more step in the field’s ongoing transition from composition studies to writing studies” (ibid.).
  • Sanchez claims that this is something more than strategic essentialism; rather, it is a step toward recognizing that there is something that symbols symbolize and that identity, ethics and essence could possibly be theorized as “events” of an in textuality (a key claim here that harkens back to the grammatological world view that Sanchez puts forward in The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (240).
  • Sanchez relies on Hayles critiques of Foucault (body as discursive construct) and postmodernism in general to bring the material body back into conversation with subjectivity (again, writer-subject).  In Hayles, Sanchez sees an important methodological project that attempts to “acknowledge the crucial, formative role of the local and the temporal while attending to the basic work of theory, which is to make general or ‘timeless’ statements” (240).
  • Hayles on embodiment:

  • Sanchez on the importance of Hayles and her treatment of materiality:  “Hayles poses the idea that materiality – whether figured discursively or as the necessary ground of discourse (or as the necessary ground of the necessary ground of discourse) – becomes consequentially thinkable, knowable, or sensible only in the interval, as it were.  The interval is the moment of inscription, the act of writing” (241).
  • Sanchez is arguing for a “neo-empirical” theory of identity wherein identity is not a philosophical concept subject to various deconstructions but a “rhetorical act that helps offer insight into the persistence and ubiquity of identity-based cultural activity – including, I believe, acts of writing” (241).
  • Sanchez relies on Mohanty’s notion of “experience” to offer an alternative to identity.  As he notes, following Mohanty – “experience is not a function of ontology; rather, it ‘refers very simply to the variety of ways humans possess information.’  As such, it ‘carries non of the normative baggage’ associated with Hegelian notions of experience, nor does it differentiate between kinds of experiences . . . . To consider experience ‘raw material’ (or as data to analyze) is to consider it mutable or plastic, at once contingent and empirical, and therefore subject to political and historical action” [The “historical and political” = the rhetorical for Sanchez] (241-2).
  • Theorizing identity as experience spread over space and time allows researchers to consider identity a “function of social and historical relations and interactions; it is not an epistemological or ontological concept.  It is a rhetorical action – an event” (243).
  • S. claims that because the idea of the subject is rendered more “material” through mediational and communicational technologies, we can “inquire more extensively about the relationship between identity and writing” (243).
  • Sanchez sees identity-as-event as something akin to Meillassoux’s contention that any event “intrudes into representation from ‘beyond’ or ‘before’ it because an outside which was not relative to us [. . .]existing in itself regardless of whether we are thinking of it or not” (245).  Yet, he dismisses the importance of looking for that pure, absolute outside or human experience, instead concentrating on eventiness as “a function, one that can emerge at once within and as the discourse of identity:  at the level of bodies, whether utterly material or thoroughly discursive” (245).  This recognition of identity as event recognizes that the differences between text and context – or individual and environment – are really differences in degree rather than kind.  Identity “is an event and events are acts of writing.  Identity is thus an act – the act – of writing.  And the writing-subject is an act of identity formation, which is to say that it is an act of writing.  Thus, identity lets us equate the writing-subject and the act of writing” (245).
  • Result of this method?  If Identity is writing-subject, then agent and act are indistinguishable (remember, degree not kind).

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