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Composition Forum 16, Fall 2006

Jung, Julie. Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. 196 pp.

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Brittany Parkhurst

In Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts, Julie Jung continues in the tradition of Nancy Welch’s Getting Restless (1997) by exploring dimensions of revision that posit it as a kind of space that might be used to delay meaning as opposed to facilitate it—an absence through which many meanings are made possible. Admittedly, Jung confesses to being “energized intellectually and personally by disruptions that result when [she] puts two ‘wrong’ things together” (xi), and, in true feminist spirit, declares: “I want more room” (xv). Of course, it is this idea of creating revisionary space—a potentially omnipotent source of possibilities and meanings—by putting two “wrong” things together that is so refreshingly satisfying. Finally, two wrong things can make a right. I want more room too.

But certainly very real parameters to any discussion of rhetoric, even revisionary rhetoric, must exist, right? Conventionally, language is used in a particular way for a particular purpose—structured, thought out, purpose-driven. Ideas of revision have traditionally constructed a phenomenon that seeks to “fill in” all those illogical gaps that so frequently pop up in writing (especially student writing), piece together fragments of meaning, and thus clarify, refine, and even “correct” meaning. Conventional revision is thus systematically limiting. From the position of rhetoric scholar, feminist teacher, and revisionary pedagogue, Jung asks, “What possible knowledges are lost when revision is theorized as a process of moving toward greater clarity of meaning or as negotiating consensus between writers and readers?” (xii). Furthermore, she asserts that her goal is “to contribute to an ongoing project of retheorizing what it might mean to practice revision in various related contexts—the academic essay, the discipline of rhetoric and composition, the subfield of feminist composition, and the English studies classroom” (xii).

Taking these goals into consideration, it seems Jung tries not only to create a new rhetoric of revision, but also, in a sense, redefine the possibilities of rhetoric in general. It is truly a revisionary rhetoric in a twofold way. Interestingly, Jung envisions revision as a way of not only searching for mistakes and making textual changes to remedy them, but also, as the term suggests, as an opportunity for changing socio-political attitudes when two wrong things are put together. Jung encourages us to consider the breadth of these wrongs, to avoid truncating them as wholly textual mistakes that need fixing. Rather, she relies on feminist theories that seek to collapse binary oppositions and chooses to theorize revision as a process of “delaying consensus so that differences and conflicts within discourse can be identified, sustained, contended with, and perhaps understood” (xii-xiii). For Jung, contradiction can be acceptable—even useful.

Conceivably, one of the most “contradictory” forms of writing is the multigenre text as it is produced by disparate positions and does not necessitate the thesis/support model; and, perhaps not surprisingly, this is one of the reasons Jung so strongly advocates it. Basing her discussion on Nancy Welch’s theories of revision and (dis)orientation, which surface as a product of feminist and psychoanalytic analysis of revision processes, and Richard E. Miller’s “The Nervous System,” which experimentally provides a series of “scenes” tied together with and interrupted by white space, Jung analyzes the “multigenre form as a rhetorical strategy” (29). Although both Welch and Miller are indeed considered RhetComp scholars, neither depend wholly on the standard academic essay format in their work: “Both authors […] juxtapose genres considered within and outside the purview of RhetComp, thereby causing readers who reside comfortably within the discipline’s boundaries to dis-identify with the texts and its authors” (Jung 29). Taking this idea of “dis-identification,” Jung then considers how conflict as a form of “delayed convergence” between the writer and reader may foster a move from “confused emotion to empathetic listening to fuller understanding” (36).

In order to engage in this kind of “empathetic listening,” Jung points out the need for readers to develop a kind of “feminist ethos,” a way of reading that is “founded not on mastery but on something else—a willingness to go in search of” (25). Thus, in a truly compelling epiphany, Jung finds that “through the lens of revisionary rhetoric […] the strategies for writing and reading are the same,” and furthermore, “given our commitment to disrupting binaries, that is as it should be” (27-28). In searching for a “writing that listens,” readers, who act as rhetorical revisers, must “respond to texts in ways that invite those texts’ authors to respond in turn” (28). Further, readers, as revisionary rhetors, must be willing to engage in an “ongoing process of acknowledging their partial worldviews, by making themselves vulnerable through their revelation of limitation,” they must “embrace disconnection [to] open the door to increased intimacy and understanding” (28).

In a fascinating implementation of this argument, Jung walks us through her own struggles with (read: compulsive need to destroy) what she initially found a theoretically narrow, and, as suggested, utterly enraging essay: Robert Connors’s “Teaching and Learning as a Man.” She aptly calls this chapter, “Toward Hearing the Impossible,” indicating a sort of movement (which we will trace through her own movement) towards listening to that which is personally difficult not to dismiss. Part of what makes this kind of listening “impossible” is the tendency commonly found in our professional scholarship to adopt the “defensively critical” response: “This [response] is easy because it allows a listener to be critical of another without obligating her to consider the way she participates in the very thing she critiques” (18). For Jung, who identifies as a feminist, rejecting Connors’s criticisms of feminist composition scholars allows her “to remain steadfast in [her] original position” and keeps her “safely aligned with a feminist composition community with which [she] strongly wish[es] to identify” (79). Agreeing to disagree provides an easy way to dismiss conflict, but to what end?

It is this exact sort of “dis-identification” Jung experiences that can be used to catalyze “empathetic listening” and enable greater understanding. To access this kind of revisionary space, Jung provides an interesting way of delaying consensus and exploring what is “not said” by making an ambitious attempt to engage multiple (male) perspectives/impressions of Connors’s essay:

In an effort to delay consensus in meaning and gain new knowledge, I interviewed male writing teachers to learn about their experiences teaching male students. I offer the results of this research in the form of a multigenre, multivocal revision of Connors’s essay, with the goal being to demonstrate how the multigenre version created spaces for me to contend with the silences in Connors’s essay and my readings of it. I conclude with a revised response to Connors’s essay, one informed by my new knowledge, which both critiques Connors’s position as it affirms my investment in identifying with a feminist composition community. (80)

In a way, Jung not only replicates the kind of experimental writing Welch and Miller foreground by using the multigenre text as site upon which to conceptualize notions of revision, but also pragmatically demonstrates how these kinds of revisions can occur. By providing a textual framework through which to locate potential revisionary “spaces,” or “silences” as she often calls them, and then showing how she herself is actually able to work through them, Jung is able to illustrate how Welch’s and Miller’s multigenre approaches are both practical and efficient. She allows Connors’s work to respond. She adheres to her feminist ideology. She practices revisionary rhetoric.

However, because Jung does include a spectrum of voices that assist her in making sense of the silences in Connors’s essay, she risks falling into what Constance Coiner has called the “white noise” effect. While heteroglossic texts have become a popular way of encouraging intertextuality in rhetoric and composition studies, simply “including many voices in a single text does not ensure revisionary rhetoric”; if there are too many disconnected voices, “the democratizing effect of heteroglossia is lost […] everyone is speaking but no one [is] heard” (32). To avoid this antithetical effect, Jung writes herself as a sort of moderator for these voices—introducing them, reflecting on them, and making sense of their interconnected presence. She uses this multivocal presence as a way of metaphorically engaging with the possibilities of silence, a way of doing rhetorical revision.

Ultimately, even after listening to and engaging with the silences in his essay, Jung still disagrees with Connors’s position; however, using rhetorical revision she arrives at her position differently, with a “new knowledge.” Yet, doing this kind of revision can indeed be arduous, if not utterly painful, because of the tendency to adopt reductive identity “tags” that often dictate the kind of response one who adopts such a persona “should” have. Jung admits: “My desire to belong as a ‘good feminist’ inevitably influenced my initial reaction to Connors’s essay, where the only acceptable response seemed to be a dismissive anger. My attempts to respond differently have been difficult, which suggests the degree to which my identity as a feminist is fixed” (110). Interestingly, by acknowledging that her identity as a feminist does indeed seem “fixed,” Jung actually reveals a kind of rigidity that works against the goals of the feminists with whom she identifies. What is more, despite her best efforts to explore silences and engage in this new type of revisionary work she is advocating, Jung’s confession demonstrates how allegiance to a rigid subjectivity “renders disruption a threat” and thus “undermines the project of revision” as a whole (110).

Yet, in spite of this potentially dismantling hazard to her work, Jung is able to avoid agonistic debate by using this perceived threat as a means to question her own ties to the feminist subjectivity it challenges. She rightly employs revision in the way, and at the time, it is most needed—to welcome delayed convergence, to delay understanding, and to do so when our own ideologies seem most vulnerable. However, to begin this kind of exploration, Jung can no longer rely on the standard academic essay format; the assertive rhetoric that brilliantly makes claims, supports them, and wins arguments can no longer work here. There are too many questions and not enough answers.

Instead of riddling through these paradoxes with dexterous academic prose, Jung chooses to break off her thoughts, leaving her dilemma unfinished and (wonderfully) unsolved. She leaves Connors, in true multigenre fashion, and moves instead to consider something that should be more understandable, something more knowable—her own childhood diary. It is through these kinds of pivots, these “disruptions in reflective narrative coherence,” that Jung may promote a “conceptual pliancy necessary for deep, attitudinal revision” (59). In choosing this particular point in her text to introduce the diary writings, at an apex of seemingly irresolvable conflict, Jung is able to show the silences in even the most “knowable” of texts. She calls this section: “Underdeveloped Themes, or, The Diary I Never Wrote.”

Upon revisiting her diary Jung finds more fascinating those (often painful) experiences on which she neglected to write. When juxtaposed with the Connors’s essay, the diary becomes a kind of symbol for “hearing the impossible.” Those “left out” experiences become an unwritten language—the diary never written—available, or recognizable, only through silences. This “unwritten diary” represents the many possibilities that might have emerged in the writing, possibilities that are identifiable through revision. While Jung is unable to resolve her dilemma with Connors’s essay, she does provide, by using a multigenre approach, an interesting way to begin thinking about how we can cope, work through, and revise texts: exploring silence as a means to wholeness, not perfection.

Julie Jung’s Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts will be an important book as we begin to consider more theoretical approaches to revision, those which will not necessarily need foundation in classroom practice. Bringing together a medley of personal reflections, childhood memories, disappointments, academic pursuits, successes, teaching experiences, silences, pedagogies, failures, voices, feminisms, and, of course, rhetoric and composition, Jung is able to conceptualize what a feminist rhetoric might look like—the multigenre text. With her unique style, insightful (re)visions, and willingness to explore—and even embrace—discomfort, Jung’s is a perspective that any serious scholar of rhetoric will want to explore. The text invites revision, even of itself.

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