5 Questions with Charlotte Kupsh
“5 questions with…” is an occasional feature where we highlight a current graduate student’s research, offering a glimpse into their work and interests. Charlotte Kupsh is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric.
1. What's the six-word-story version of your research focus (think written by Hemingway on a napkin at a bar)?
We’re always writing from material places.
2. What's a question that's preoccupying you in your research right now?
Here’s the thing that’s always tying my brain in knots: how do we understand place? Places are material, but our experiences of place are also completely dictated by our impressions, perceptions, experiences, histories, situatedness, and our relations with others. My experience of Lincoln—or of Wilderness Park, or of Andrews Hall, or of the parking lot outside of my apartment building—is different from yours; it’s always singular, personal, and momentary. At the same time, our singular, personal, and momentary experiences of places are deeply intertwined with one another, with culture, with nature, with our shared historical moment, with all of the elements that make up the rich contexts of our lives. Place is a material experience, but of course embodied experiences have always also been about ideologies, too—concepts like race, class, gender, and sexuality have always been present in physical spaces.
And the implications of this for rhetoric are huge—if you understand that writing emerges from a rhetorical situation, and if the speaker’s place is part of that rhetorical situation, then how do we reconcile what we cannot know about one another’s rhetorical situations? Or, to take a step back, how does our own understanding (or lack thereof) of the place we write from influence how we convey our message—or even the content of that message?
3. Who is a scholar that's been challenging or inspiring your thinking? Can you recommend a book or article?
There’s a quotation that I put on a sticky note above my desk immediately after reading it, and the idea has been reaching back and grabbing me ever since. It’s from Rosanne Carlo’s book Transforming Ethos: Place and the Material in Rhetoric and Writing, which is about how place is an integral part of our ethos, or our being, as writers. Drawing on some language from rhetorician Josh Gunn, Carlo writes, “All rhetoric is trying to reconcile the presence of this ‘terrible, yawning gap’ between subject and object, between past and present, even between self and other” (74). That idea knocked me out, this image of a “terrible, yawning gap” between self and other—and the goal of rhetoric, then, is to somehow draw together the distance between interior and exterior, self and other, rhetor and audience.
Throughout the book, Carlo references Deleuze’s idea of “the fold,” or the sense that the outside world is always influencing the inside. They are not different concepts, but rather more like the interior and exterior of, say, a piece of fabric; the fold in that fabric is the means by which we bring together self and other. And so Carlo thinks that to truly understand one another, we have to understand each other’s locations, our material beings. She writes that “we meet the other at the fold through engagements with the material” (93). So, that’s an idea that has been at the top of my mind for weeks now, this idea from Carlo and from other materialism scholars: we perceive a gap between self and other, but there is no difference; we are the same.
4. What's a research strategy or writing habit that's been working for you lately?
To be very practical, I love OneNote! It’s my favorite tool for taking notes on readings, freewriting, and tracking common themes across texts. I’m reading for comps right now, and being able to search across all my notes at once for a phrase or name has been so helpful.
I also have started trying to write about things I’m reading for less academic audiences. If there is an idea that has been rattling around in my head for a while that I think might be interesting to friends, I make an Instagram post with a caption describing what I’m thinking about in my research—so, maybe I’ll post a picture of somewhere I’ve been hiking recently with a caption about how people and places are co-constitutive, etc. The process of writing for a nonacademic purpose and within a limited amount of characters can really help me focus on what’s most compelling. When you have to distill the idea down to meet genre constraints, sometimes it has the effect of distilling the idea in useful ways in your head, too. It’s also fun to share what I do at school with friends and family who otherwise don’t get to hear about it!
5. If you had to choose a watershed moment in the development of your research and writing, an important turning point, what would it be?
Here’s an easy one: learning that place studies was a field! When I came to UNL and started learning about place-conscious education, ecocomposition, and place studies broadly, I was stunned. I’d always been interested in place, but I didn’t realize you could study it in this way. Suddenly, things that had preoccupied me for years were turning up in texts I was reading in school. I realized that not only did other people feel these deep, unexplainable, emotional connections to place, but they also researched and wrote about it. I’m sure many people feel this way about their work, but realizing I could study something in my professional life that I was fascinated by every day in my personal life was the big breakthrough for me.
photos courtesy of Charlotte Kupsh