Embodied Rhetorics: what you learn in a given week

This week’s academic pursuits centered on the self, thingness, the self as object, community in opposition to object, community because of object, and things being embodied.

Thingness scares me. I get thing.  I get “ness.” But when you put it together, it’s essentializing.

I have a self. I know my self. I’ve read lots of Selfe, and Selfe. And Hawisher and Selfe.

I know about objects, but one of the things that happens in the field of rhetoric (and in the world) is that object doesn’t mean the same thing from reading to reading.

But lately I’m interested in this idea of embodiment. I think the greatest part of my interest in the concept is that I’m a person who has always tried to deal with things on the intellectual plane. It’s not that I am obsessed with words (I guess I am, but I’m more obsessed with multi-modality), but rather that I’ve always carried around a sense of embodied awkwardness. I’ve always been larger than average, always been a touch clumbsy. I’d often have preferred to be invisible. But… I’m not, and I never was. So it’s time to think about what it means to be embodied and to sense things in an embodied way.

I have two examples, one of which I nearly shared in class when a professor at my university whose name rhymes with Chef asked if we’d ever had an embodied literacy experience. Everyone was going with rather positive things, so I saved this. But… I HATE to read aloud. I don’t know why, honestly. I don’t know if when I was young there was some trauma, or if the kids laughed at me in reading class, or if I just don’t like being looked at… but any time I have to read out loud, even now, my body clinches up. My already questionable posture gets worse, my stomach tightens, and often one or the other of my hands shakes involuntarily.

Let me break for a second to clarify something that confuses me people. I am NOT nervous speaking in front of crowds. Sometimes I get presentation jitters in a class, or if I’m on a panel and someone I really look up to is in the audience, but I can grab a microphone and stand in front of a thousand people and talk about something I understand with no abnormal discomfort.

If I have to READ to them, I might pass out.

That’s an embodied response to a literate practice. I even feel a bit jittery reading aloud BY MYSELF in the comfort of my own home.

But my other example is more “rhetoric” and less literacy. As people who deal in words, we often feel that we can say just about anything clearly and concisely. It’s what we do. We’re wordsmiths. But I think the concept of embodiment of rhetoric comes in those things that cannot be said. I won’t share the specific occasion here (as I don’t think this is a place where a specific example is needed), but this week I encountered– more than once– an idea I needed to express that I simply couldn’t convey in words. I started moving. I made my point.

So another question raised was “how could we study this as a literacy?” My suggestion– which sort of fell on deaf ears during a break– was to study sports (perhaps more specifically coaching). There are numerous examples of this, but the most obvious one to me is from something I’ve taught: how to shoot a basketball. I can explain it to you in words. Grab the ball. Line it up on your non-shooting hand so that your fingers are on the seams (for the most part) and you can hold the ball steady without applying pressure (otherwise you’ll pull the shot one way or the other). Put your shooting hand under the ball so that your fingers rest in a way so that you feel you have traction and control. Starting with your feet, allow the motion to channel from your body to your arm, extend, and sort of gooseneck your arm while pushing the ball into the air.

Does that make ANY sense?

If I took you outside, right now, I could show you what I mean, and once you saw it, and tried it a few times, you’d probably get it. I just re-read my written description, and I honestly have no idea what I meant.

So… some things have to be embodied. Perhaps all things are, by their nature, embodied. I feel the keys as I type. I no longer look down. I trust that my hands will land in the right place each time.



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