Part I: The Hauntings of In Memoriam --

The Voices of the Scholarly Conversation

"In the past turns the present." (Victor Villanueva y Hernandes)

"True memoir is written in an attempt to find not only a self but a world." (Patricia Hampl)

How we enter the conversation

Actors pose as modern art!The writers of In Memoriam are teachers of English in our professional lives, but writing and performing this piece gave us a space in which our other lives could also speak. Keith is a director, producer and activist; Bob is a playwright and an actor; Paul is a dramaturge and an erstwhile director; Joonna is an a cappella singer and a performer.

The ghosts of those other lives converge here, sharing the stage, as it were, with our teacher-selves. Because the conference that provided the impetus for the invention of this work is about the teaching of English, especially the teaching of writing, and because as compositionists we are grounded in the work of rhetoricians of the ancient world, the title of our play reflects that grounding and the ancient nature of the subject of performance -- a conversation which began two thousand years ago.

The wide influence of Milman Parry and Albert B. Lord (The Singer of Tales) and Eric Alfred Havelock (Preface to Plato) makes us even more aware that performance was essential to humanity’s ability to create a history, to craft an aesthetic response to the world, to pass on knowledge, and to mold self-understanding and empathy. Walter Ong further confirms and builds upon their work, demonstrating the intertwining of writing and the performance of the word.  He writes, "Fortunately, literacy, though it consumes its own oral antecedents and, unless, it is carefully monitored, even destroys their memory, is also infinitely adaptable. It can restore their memory, too." In a statement about Orality and Literacy, he laments, "Such an understanding of both orality and literacy is what this book, which is of necessity a literate work and not an oral performance, attempts in some degree to achieve" (15). In Memoriam is, in this presentation, both a literate work and an oral performance. But it hopes to be more than that. It seeks to play in that field of the ineffable, touching on the very definitions and value of memory as it creates and destroys histories, aesthetic understandings, knowledge, and self-identity. And in its "playing" it encounters the ghosts of former "players" in the field of rhetoric and composition, and other fields, such as performance and theatre studies.

Teaching and the performative tradition

In the history of rhetoric, performance and memory were important concepts and closely connected.  The orator, storyteller, sage, and community historian, performing before an audience, all needed memory to aid ready recall and effective delivery. Memory needed performance to move the communal audience. We moderns tend to think of performance as a night of culmination -- a public presentation of a rehearsed art. But the Greeks viewed the actions of individuals, whether on a platform, a dias, a stage, a political arena, or other place, played out within the community as performance.  Aristotle’s discussion of law (On Rhetoric I.13.3), demonstrates this turn to performance: "[W]e ought to do or not to do . . . .From this point of view we can perform just or unjust acts in either of two ways -- towards one definite person, or towards the community. The man who is guilty of adultery or assault is doing wrong to some definite person; the man who avoids service in the army is doing wrong to the community." Aristotle seems to recognize that actions, as well as words performed within the community, visible to the whole, perform the truth and values of that people.

Kevin and Steven Teachers perform as well, every day, in the communities of their classrooms, not just by the words they say, but by their actions and gestures; we rehearse before our audiences the truth and values of that community as well as the broader community of the civic realm. Moreover, teachers and scholars in the field of composition and rhetoric have a vast body of work that tells us that part of our job is to move our students to be performers of the rhetorics they learn.  Among others Kathleen Welch, in particular, talks about "critical performance" and "production." She says, "In the functions of memory and delivery reside many issues of culture, ideology, society, and the construction of public and private lives" (145).  Jenn Fishman et al. further argue that interrogating the intersection of writing/rhetoric and performance will advance our disciplinary understanding and development: a "focus on performance locates textual exchange in specific sites; it makes delivery interactive; and it turns the idea of audience into something concrete and participatory" (228). Recuperating a tradition of performance that extends, by way of Burke in the eighteenth century, to the ancients, Fishman et al. erect a framework in which the text and performance of In Memoriam may occur: "performing bodies could never be erased completely from modern industrial literate culture, and so we think of them as ghosts in the writing machine: ghosts that have, over the last forty years, haunted work in rhetoric and composition" (228). Memory, delivery, performance, construction, production, values, and society -- all are key terms for what we do as scholar/teachers. And indeed, in the play presented here, all of these terms spin together.

The "radical promise" of performance studies

In the classical tradition, in the world of teaching rhetoric and composition today, and in the world of performance studies, we see an emphasis on doing, the practice of "activity" or a "continuum of actions" that Richard Schechner, in his forward to Teaching Performance Studies, extends beyond the arts and the classroom to everyday life, social roles, healing, and the media. "There is no historically fixable limit to what is or is not ‘performance’" (xi). Just as some in our field argue that everything is rhetoric, we might say that everything is performance.  It is interdisciplinary and always moving and changing with the times and the needs and desires of the community. "People want, need, and have standards by which to live, write, think, and act," says Schechner in Performance Studies: an Introduction, and with this he stresses that even in a field with that kind of openness and mutability, "values" are present and important (1). We are taken with Schechner’s way of limiting his examination of a huge field by using his own interests and experiences as "points of departure." His ideas grow from his own "center" and guide his writing (1).  No doubt, the same will be true with this document. The conversations we rehearse here are ones we find compelling, fit (to use a term from ancient rhetorics) for the occasion, and in many respects, ones that arise from our center, our values.

As teachers and scholars of rhetoric we understand the role of language. "[Language] can move us toward what is good; it can move us toward what is evil; or it can, in hypothetical third place, fail to move us at all. . . . But any utterance is a major assumption of responsibility" (6).  Richard Weaver’s statement, from his Ethics of Rhetoric connects language to action. Action, is also a part of Schenchner’s discussion of performance’s sympathy toward "the marginal, the offbeat, the minoritarian" among others. "Projects within performance studies often act on or act against strictly ordered or settled hierarchies of ideas, organization, or people" (3). Any of us who have seen a casual remark or an attempt at humor go awry understand the power of performance and the ability to heal or hurt.

Performance not only expands our comprehension of and actions within the ethical, it broadens and deepens the epistemological frameworks within which we come to know and study the world -- academic discourse being one such "strictly ordered . . . settled [hierarchy] of ideas, organization [and] people." Dwight Conquergood recognizes the "radical promise" in performance (studies): "Performance studies struggles to open the space between analysis and action, and to pull the pin on the binary opposition between theory and practice. This embrace of different ways of knowing is radical because it cuts to the root of how knowledge is organized in the academy" (145-46). Performance enables forms of embodied knowledge that are excluded, neglected, marginalized, and subordinated by traditional academic systems:

Dominant epistemologies that link knowing with seeing are not attuned to meanings that are masked, camouflaged, indirect, embedded, or hidden in context. The visual/verbal bias of Western regimes of knowledge blinds researchers to meanings that are expressed forcefully through intonation, silence, body tension, arched eyebrows, blank stares, and other protective arts of disguise and secrecy. (146)

Integrating such nuances of meaning into an academic project, performance studies also challenges and transforms the boundaries of academic discourse. Not only the method of inquiry but the content of inquiry shifts when performance is part of the project. It is not just that performance makes visible those meanings that are "masked, camouflaged, indirect, embedded, or hidden in context," but that those meanings can now be given focal attention by the scholar/artist and by the audience.

Conquergood acknowledges the productive value of hybrid scholarship that incorporates both written text and performance; such inquiries "deepen experiential and participatory engagement with materials both for the researcher and her audience; they provide a dynamic and rhetorically compelling alternative to conference papers; they offer a more accessible and engaging format for sharing research and reaching communities outside academia" (152). In Memoriam, originally presented by its authors at CCCC and later recreated for this essay by the Acadiana Repertory Theatre, certainly attempted to accomplish all of these goals. Moreover, this online essay, with both its digital record of the latter performance and its more traditional exegesis, perhaps more directly embodies the hybridity that Conquergood applauds.

Memoria and performance

Even saying the word memory evokes emotion and ghosts.  Its murmuring, repeated m-sounds in an onomatopoeic manner reverberate like ghostly echoes intruding on otherwise linear and rational thought processes. But memory, one of the five ancient rhetorical canons, is important to us as scholars because memory is the "storehouse of knowledge" -- knowledge, the very thing we professors "profess" (Calendrillo 435). Kathleen J. Ryan’s observations of the creative work of memory usefully complicate this classical notion: "Memory material is not a static storehouse; it is made up of fluid impressions, associations, and tentative recollections that gain meaning through the second dimension of rememoried knowing, imagination and interpretation" (40). The exciting work done in theatre and performance studies is not only more clearly rooted in the ideas of the ancient world than our modern notions of "memorizing a text," but it s also more receptive to the fluidity of meaning that Ryan affirms. Joni L. Jones explains the kinesthetic dimension of memory which happens when her students perform literature from a culture outside of their own experiences.

In the Performance of Dramatic Literature course, my intention is to provide the students with an opportunity to discover new body memories [. . .] The philosophy of the course [. . .] beckons toward a radical revision of the future. The course rests on the basic assumption that performance changes the performer, thereby changing the world [. . . .] In this performance course, I am not interested in actor training. I suggest, with great humility, that at is best, the course is human training. (176)

She continues to describe the "human training" in kinesthetic terms:

When the students in the course take on cultures they believe are other than their own, they expand themselves through the bodily incorporation that is performance. In this way, performance is like an intimate relationship in which one opens to another and is in the process irrevocably changed. (176-7)

The new "body memories" that the students "discover" or even invent are physical and learned not by rote memorization, though they are memorizing texts. The body remembers and informs our feelings and attitudes, our values and ideas, our hopes and losses.

Jones ends her essay with an observation that the "body believes what it plays at." Further, the body "enacts the past, brings it back to life." She argues that bodily learning "is not what one has, like knowledge that can be brandished, but something one is" (188). In Memoriam demonstrates, or at least tries to "embody,"  the notion that our past lives, all the people we encounter for good or ill, all our readings and learnings, all that makes up "us," are memoried in us physically. We feel those memories; in fact, the ease with which the staging and movement happened when the writers/actors of In Memoriam were rehearsing came about because our bodies had memoried the events we were describing.

Such embodiment was the necessary rhetorical strategy for our project. A series of conventional conference papers would not have been adequate to the construction of meaning that emerged as we developed our individual presentations and collective session at CCCC. Victor Villanueva explains that "Memory simply cannot be adequately portrayed in the conventional discourse of the academy." Villanueva admits that "discourse is cognitively powerful . . . [but] the cognitive alone is insufficient. It can be strong for logos. It can be strong for ethos. But it is very weak in pathos" (12). While we may have begun our collaborative work within the traditional framework of academic discourse (and, more specifically, within the customary structure of the program of 15-minute conference presentations followed by a "Q & A" coda), we soon broke free of this as we allowed the performative dimension of our subject to shape our method of delivery.

Paul binds Keith to embody the Day of Silence calling attention to violence against queers.
Paul binds Keith to embody the Day of Silence calling attention to violence against queers.
That delivery demonstrated E. Patrick Johnson’s observation that the goals and methods of literary criticism (and other traditional academic disciplinary discourses) are not identical with those of performance: "Performative exegesis emphasizes the performer as critic, implicating the performer/critic’s body in the process of meaning making" (244). Distinct and sometimes surprising meanings emerged through/in performance: the fluidity of voices (the voices of the authors/performers as well as the voices of those ghosts imagined in our memories) brought the memories and reflections of the four authors into multiple relationships (collision, harmony, contrast, irony); physical gestures and movements provided nuances of description and narration more accurately, more concisely, and at times more humorously than text would have; the fundamental fact of embodied presentation (e.g., the CCCC presenters moving about a convention meeting room, posing as Rodin’s "The Thinker," and leaping into the air; one presenter wrapping another in a rainbow-patterned ribbon) cast these authors as physically vulnerable, exuberant, sensual -- qualities of our humanity that are typically neglected, discounted, or dismissed in academic discourse and in sites of professional community.

Ghosts and teaching

So many of the worlds we inhabit as academics are haunted. Our literature is haunted by the spectors of slavery, the frontier, failures to welcome immigrants, etc. Our writing is haunted by our experiences and the people we have encountered. Our university hallways are filled with echoes of the past -- emblems donated by a group of students, a classroom provided by someone long dead, a bench in memory of a student lost in battle. Our faculty meetings are haunted by the ideas and work of colleagues and administrators we might have never known. Even our curricula have been in large part passed down to us by people who are now ghosts. If you have ever tried to argue that a program be cut, you heard the echoes of the builder of that program arguing to preserve the program. And we know that the ghosts can help us. A compact of lovely and beautiful language written by founders of a university can provide the key way to influence donors to support new initiatives. Those nineteenth century voices whisper to them of values and high ideas. They can serve as our conscience as well--the good angel on our shoulders who reminds not to give up on the liberal arts’ impulse of education for wisdom and justice.

We shouldn’t be surprised that our performances of our professional lives are necessarily haunted. And it is somehow comforting to know that already we haunt our students’ lives for the most part. We are drawn to notions of hospitality in teaching as described in Powell and Shaffer’s reworking and use of Derrida.

However, to play hauntologically, as we imagine it, . . . is. . . to purposefully create spaces in our work where [multiple perspectives] might merge and/or insert themselves. Derrida uses the term hospitality to describe this epistemology. He asks that our approach to a thing be hospitable, that we forego trying to pin the thing down. . . to let the thing be . . . ghostly. (2)

In writing this conventional essay about the scholarly conversation, we have found ourselves wondering what is the question, what is the argument, what do we agree with, what even do we understand? Wrestling with ideas and words to describe something that is sensed in the body, in the soul even, is a very different experience than the writing and performing of our play. This essay, by its very form, feels inhospitable. We are trying to pin it down, sort through the voices, chart a course. And it is hard and even uncomfortable at times, however rewarding it is in polished form. It is part of what we do as scholars and academics. It was part of our schooling. It haunts us as well.

But the play, rather than find a space to develop, rather than find voices that we valued, created spaces. And into those spaces came all the ghosts, the voices, rather unexpectedly, that you see and hear in this performance. You, as reader or viewer, bring your own familiars with you as well. The performance is a place of hospitality which invites you in, not unlike the way Rogerian forms of argumentation invite participation. Trying to really understand the other’s thoughts and and beliefs requires risk. The primary risk in Carl Rogers’s invitational rhetoric was in "being changed yourself." And he knew that such change was "frightening" (333). Inviting in the other, creating a hospitable space, is dangerous business. It actually makes the traditional form of the critical/scholarly essay seem safe!

Isn’t it interesting that both Composition and Theatre stress "yes"? Theatre games, spinning out of the work of Viola Spolin, are about empowerment and learning how to respond to change with a "yes, and" rather than a negative.  They are, in a word, about believing. Many of us in composition studies have learned from the important and always controversial work of Peter Elbow the importance of the "believing game" in writing, in which scholars such as Nathaniel Teich and others see connections to Carl Rogers’s invitational argumentation. And Elbow himself, in his 1998 introduction to the new edition of Writing Without Teachers, acknowledges "seeds" for his theory of the believing game in Rogers.

Believing -- saying yes -- allows the presence of others to enter freely, with abandon, to make "exciting performances" which "make the audience think differently about the world far after the performance is done by capturing our attention with the performance, with the performative choices, with the performers as ghostly encounters" (Powell and Shaffer 4).  But for us as teachers of writing, literature, and rhetoric, this creates real concerns that get at the heart of our pedagogies in the classroom. Viewing now all the events that transpire in the classroom as performances -- performances opening up spaces for ghosts to enter into the creative learning process, performances that excite and resist control, performances that invite response which might make us question or wonder or even feel uncomfortable -- we must, of necessity, revisit all our practices in the classroom.
What assignments and texts do we give students which led them to shut down their ghosts? Do we teach the negative, argumentative? Do we chastise and drive off productive hauntings rather than let them live and go where they will?
Powell and Shaffer cite a number of studies which set at oppositional sides (already trying to contain those other voices, it seems) the classrooms in which texts and performances are kept distinct and those other classrooms where the demarcation line is "blurry" (Bowman and Bowman 206-8). Scholars in performance theory see the problems of theory and practice meeting (Powell and Shaffer 10). We also are concerned about how performance translates and transports the learning in the writing classroom. But approaching the question with a believing attitude and eyes and ears willing to see the good is our pedagogy. We see how composition theory is already finding ways to enact performance in the classroom.
Students reading their papers out loud enact revision in the very performance of the paper itself. While reading they hear the laughter of their classmates, and in the reading, they spontaneously interpret their own text in a way they had not seen before in the producing of it. If a classmate’s eye sheds a tear in response to a narrative, the two ghosts of the audience and the writer/performer engage each other to create empathy and understanding even though they are strangers to each other.
Multi-genre projects or scaffolded assignments are aimed to be performed on the web and/or in person to the class orally, visually, bodily. Celebrations of texts of all sorts erupt in the classroom at the ends of semesters in a mad convergence of ghostly presences. Our students and we teachers can and do benefit from performing in the classroom. Just as we invited our ghosts to fill the spaces of the CCCC panel, to take a risk, and to let the performance go where it would, we have to be willing to be as open with our students and see the haunted classroom as a productive, creative classroom. As Fishman et al. remind us, our students "are rhetors in both a classical and a distinctly modern -- even postmodern -- sense: individuals who, singly and in groups, participate in numerous communication situations that involve a dazzling, sometimes staggering, array of literate practices" (245). They are ready to meet the challenge. We must engage alongside them and, with similar inventiveness and adaptability, develop a broad array of inquiries that theorize our work and our risk taking in ways that others can understand and value.