• Keshia Mcclantoc

Through Bodies and Language: Watershed takes on Fall 2018


Photo credit: hifructose.com

In William Banks's “Written Through the Body: Disruptions and ‘Personal Writing’” he posits that the body is a generator (33). In Fall 2018, the Watershed Collective used their bodies as generators to write of their bodies, the language we encounter, and the cultural conditions and complications in between. Banks further asserts that “bodies exist locally and contingently, and that writing that comes from them, through them, reflects that sort of contingency” (34). While reading and rereading the Watershed posts this semester, I was struck by the attention that the contributors called to both local and worldly languages, and bodies that this language is written and filtered through. This semester’s writings proved to be a powerful examination of the instability of interpreting language and the good and bad it may do for our bodies.

In particular, the Watershed team drew nuanced portrayals of what it means to have bodies of difference in a time where complex rhetorics make it difficult to move through the world. Some posts were calls to action, beautifully written initiatives to better use language to understand our bodies and the bodies of others. Other posts left us with more questions than answers, asking what we can do to further add nuance to the rhetoric we encounter. Yet all fifteen posts this semester shed let on how to continue being and interacting with the theories that shape our bodies and language. Here are some highlights from the thought-provoking work the Watershed team did this semester:

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Robert Lipscomb opened the semester with an examination of the metaphorical queer body, looking to the “mop top” hairstyle as codified sexuality within film. Lipscomb proposes that this hairstyle, neither curly nor straight but somewhere in between, can say the same of sexuality, not homosexual nor heterosexual but somewhere in between. By examining depictions of the “mop top” throughout a spectrum of older films, Lipscomb says that these representations of queerness can better build the queer community during our present tense and challenging times.

The theme of bodies continues in Christian Rush’s navigation of his continually becoming body. Rush meditates on how the body reacts to, resists, and moves through change and questions how space and time effect embodiment. This reflection is full of moments of both joy and grief, with Rush shedding light on the complexities of having a body that is both his and not his and the pieces of himself that no one will understand.

Next, Rachel Cochran disseminates the language of Section 377, a recently overturned law that criminalized homosexual acts in India. Here, Cochran questions Eurocentric narratives of progress and their relationship with colonialism and imperialism. While Cochran celebrates India’s victory, she also calls attention to the language and histories that surround it, positing that progress is not always natural or inevitable, and our discourse must work around these ideas to have any sort of claim to true progress.

Adam Hubrig furthers discussion on discourse by talking on parrhesia and white supremacist rhetoric. Using comics as a lens, Hubrig cultivates an overview of groups who decry diversity, appropriating the language of oppression to claim that heterosexuality and whiteness are losing their power. Hubrig asserts that this type of negative parrhesia works to build a victim ethos that constructs them as underdogs, while truly marginalized peoples are positioned as the oppressors.

In an examination of Johanna Drucker’s “Why Distant Reading Isn’t,” Jonathan Cheng explores the relationship among language, numbers, and literacy. Cheng both questions and applauds computational scholarships that looks for solutions between language and numbers, arguing that literacy in numbers is not just about counting repetitions, but about developing meaningful impressions through our interactions with a text. This post has more questions than answers, with Cheng playing with the idea that poker may be our best bet in gambling between numbers and reading.

In Michelle Trantham’s post, she discusses how female characters who write is a trope not unknown, but still one with its own unique barriers. Trantham relates the female characters who write, whether in dramas or rom-coms, to The Yellow Wallpaper, writing and rewriting until they break the barriers within their life. For these women, writing becomes a powerful linguistic tool in asserting agency. While Trantham applauds this trend in film and television, she leaves the post by asking what happens for these women next.

In her preview of Humanites on the Edge Scholar, Kent A. Ono, Cailtin Henry discusses the relationship between borders and their materiality, giving a brief history of Ono’s work with these issues. Henry calls attention between the ever-changing and quick pace of immigration narratives and theories, which must filter through inextricably bound attitudes and economies of migration.

Ilana Masad’s review of Kent Ono’s HotE lecture follows up to Henry’s inquiries, summarizing Ono’s ideas on the rhetoric of sanctuary and its juxtapositions to truth. Masad examines the language of sanctuary, a rhetoric that Ono posits as seemingly built outside of the law. Masad’s reading of Ono’s lecture proposes that finding and believing in sanctuary is an oft messy and complex notion, complicated by the language, emotions, and narratives that surround it.

Next, Stevie Seibert Desjarlais previews Lee McIntyre’s Humanities on the Edge lecture by unpacking Lee’s definitions of post-truth. In following McIntyre to Oxford’s definition, Desjarlais posits post-truth as when objective facts are less appealing to the public than that of emotions or beliefs. The language of the post-truth is most often conflated and manipulated on social media, and Desjarlais offers that McIntyre’s lecture may better shed light on fighting against this.

Colton White reviews Lee McIntyre’s HoTE lecture by complimenting the way McIntyre brings nuance and urgency to anxiety inducing times of fake news and alternative facts. White reiterates McIntyre’s notion that three different factors have introduced an age of post-truth: cognitive biases, decline of traditional media and rise of social media, and postmodernism. White contends that while McIntrye’s mission is to disintegrate post-truth, more allies and understandings of post-truth are needed to truly do so.

Adam Hubrig returns with a reflection on Jeffrey T. Nealon’s I'm Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music. Hubrig discusses the way Nealon uses his work to examine authenticity, asserting that music can be used to cultivate affective identities that rebel against dominant culture. Hubrig concludes that music may be used as a means of resistance in everyday lives.

In a return to Watershed, alumni Emily Dowdle discusses labor-power relationships and the commodification of student athletes and graduate students. Dowdle summarizes the history of the 2016 Seventh Circuit ruling, which says that student athletes are not employees, and therefore are amateurs who should not be paid. Using this example as a lens, Dowdle argues that graduate students and student athletes are part of a hyper-commercialized and commodified university system where their labor and work is not seen as valuable.

Citing the recent incident of Trump saying that black, female reporter, April Ryan, doesn’t know what she’s doing, Claire Jimenez discusses the difficulties and complexities of being a woman of color in the publishing and literary world. Jimenez gives a brief yet extensive history of the presence of black female writers, reporters, and other literary figures and posits that classrooms and the publishing industry must continue to make space for inclusivity so that the voices of these women can be heard.

Christy Hyman returns to bodies with a discussion of slaves and former slaves and the ways their bodies moved across the seas during the nineteenth century. Hyman posits that discussions of global movements of bodies, especially bodies of color, must be continued and that scholars should view the vastness of the sea not as something to be intimidated by, but as something ripe with opportunity for discovery and interpretation.

In our final Watershed post of the semester, Anne Nagel discusses David Dunning’s cheekily entitled “Are we all confident idiots?” Nagel outlines the ways that pretending to know something feels almost like knowing itself, so people become confident in their ignorance. This unfounded confidence often hinders people from participating in discussions of actual truth, taking on rewarding intellectual challenges, or from interrogating our reality.

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Banks says “writing through our bodily experiences creates meaning for us; the writing mimics the body, and writers who get the chance to experiment with embodied writing learn how hard it is to grow, to stretch themselves to fit it” (33). I am curious about the different ways the contributors at Watershed stretched themselves in the examinations of bodies and language this semester. As a reader, I felt myself growing and stretching as I read and reread each stunning post. I am thankful for the work that the Watershed contributors took in writing through experiences of knowing and unknowing their bodies and the complicated rhetoric that we encounter.

And as always, the Watershed team is grateful to the English Department at UNL and Dr. Marco Abel. I especially want to thank the wonderful Watershed Administrative team, Gina Keplinger, Christian Rush, and Jonathan Cheng, whose hard work keeps this theorizing machine running. Thank you for leading us through the semester. This semester is a stunning collection of ideas, reflections, and remembrances; I’m looking forward to what we can keep producing.

Works Cited

Banks, William. “Written through the Body: Disruption and ‘Personal’ Writing.” College English. vol. 66, no.1, 2003. 21-40.