I’ve been working on our department’s strategic plan. It’s really difficult to be "strategic" in a department as divided as ours. It’s not that we are hostile to one another. Nothing like that. It’s more like the amicable divorce where exes get along for the kids’ sake.
But you can’t really plan a future together.
Being divided hasn’t been great for professional writing, but it hasn’t been terrible either. We’ve been free to pursue our interests, but with only three of us, we’re ultimately limited in the scope of our activities. There are advantages to being small, but there are also obvious disadvantages. On the other hand, I think it has been hardest for our teacher education faculty who have to run the largest program in our department and deal with all the state bureaucracy.
If you took away all the personalities and the history and examined the situation with a cold eye, it wouldn’t be hard to determine that we are inefficient. We are inefficient because are department runs according to conflicting sets of external disciplinary values (literary studies, rhetoric, teacher education) rather than through some internal logic that would seek to maximize the department’s human resources.
Obviously the premise is that departments follow a shared
disciplinary logic. While we all know the long-standing conflicted
history of English a la Graff, I believe that in the past those shifts
still worked within a disciplinary logic. We have something different.
In the 16 years I’ve been a grad student and professor, I haven’t seen
anything that resembles a coherent discipline, and I don’t see anything
to suggest such a thing will ever come to pass. I don’t even see it in
rhet/comp, let alone in English Studies.
I mean are there any Phds in English under the age of 50 that
believe rhet/comp and literary studies are part of the same discipline?
what common objective would they share that would differentiate them
from other disciplines (i.e. what do both r/c and lit. stud. do that
philosophy or communications or history don’t do)? what are their
common methods or activities?
The upshot is that English departments can’t be founded on a
disciplinary logic unless they subdivide, which means they are no
longer really departments. Instead they require a post-disciplinary
arrangement. That means a local arrangement that is not based on what
"should be" according to some external disciplinary vision but rather
on whatever is.
Creating a strategic future based on whatever is not easy, as one is
always tempted, attracted to the desires of disciplinary machines. It
is especially difficult in terms of the most treacherous of
departmental grounds: new hires. It is a strange battlefield in a way.
We tend to fight for someone "like us," and yet hires are always risky.
In some respects it’s easier to let others take the risk.
The deepest challenge though is to create a future where the
curricular/disciplinary goal is NOT to hire or educate people like us
or to become like us. What happens when we give up that desire to
reproduce our ideological, aesthetic, and disciplinary values? How do
we even teach outside of that cybernetic, interpolative desire?
I’m not making recommendations mind you. Really I’m not. I don’t
believe such post-disciplinary spaces are reachable given where we are.
Or, alternately, we will come upon them inevitably through ongoing