Notes from Alien Phenomenology

I’m reflecting in anticipation of a book chat about Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology. I’m rereading the book and want to take stock of moments that make me pause.

On page 12, Bogost cites systems operations from his previous work as a way to conceptualize the top-down logical extensions of correlationalism (he’s speaking here of “the world” as a correlationist’s conceit). Bogost identifies systems operations as totalizing structures that “tend to assume that some final, holistic, definative explanation accounts for and explains being” (13). Further (creating space for an object-oriented critique)  Bogost identifies “scientific naturalism” and “social relativism”as contemporary philosophical manifestations of totalizing structures.

I’ve been thinking about that idea of totalizing structures in terms of composition and writing and my own pedagogy and practice in the classroom. Do I assume that there is some final, holistic, definitive explanation for writing that, if understood and followed studiously, will result in great writing, be writing by students or, really, anyone? I have Byron Hawk’s Counter History of Composition on order, but I began reading it form the library. In it, Hawk works to reexamine vitalism, and, it seems to me, offer a kind of critique of composition studies theories that have reduced, or totalized, the complexities of writing. Geoffrey Sirc seemed to offer similar critiques in his recent CCC review that included Hawk’s book (CCCarnival on Resisting Entropy).

Hawk, Sirc, and other compositionists (and, tangentially, Bogost), have struck a chord with me when I think about how I approach teaching composition. Is it even possible, I wonder to have some sort of definitive explanation for composition? Is this what the process movement was all about? Do I have totalizing tendencies when I prepare for and teach writing? Are such tendencies inevitable? Avoidable? Useful? Harmful? None of the above? All of the above?

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