Apocalyptic Turn/Sparking Change

And just like that, the Spring semester has flown by and will soon give way to the joys of summer.  Before we end, however, I’d like to take some time to outline the final capstone project I’m assigning to my first-year writing students to end our time together and draw everything to a cohesive close: a research paper project that we will draft together and eventually adapt into digital form.

This final project version will be available to the public, viewable by anyone with an internet connection.  Student participants, whom I prefer to call student-writer-citizens, will develop their own unique takes on matters of public concern– such as mass incarceration, deforestation in the Amazon, eugenics, gun control and the Syrian refugee crisis– and will then contribute their six-pagers to our collaborative online publication.

I’ll post that link here as the project develops.  For now, take a look at the official assignment prompt, posted to our class blog.  We’re calling this capstone project Sparking Change (for everyone’s knowledge, my students know their writing here is public and have signed off on it).

This final project (and indeed, much of what I’ve been working through with my writing classes this semester) is oriented around the idea of an apocalyptic turn that has occurred within composition and rhetoric in recent years.  The apocalyptic turn draws on the work of Paul Lynch, Lynn Worsham, Derek Owens and Kurt Spellmeyer, all of whom perform various critique of composition in the age of economic downturn, social upheaval and the anthropocene. Lynch explores a simple question in regards to these various affairs that loudly menace our world: “What can composition do to ameliorate these threats?”  He ventures a variety of semi-satisfying answers, which I’ll link to here, but this capstone first-year writing project is positioned as a partial answer to one of Lynch’s more contentious claims: that “our ignorance about how to avert the apocalypse is actually the best argument for making it our project.”

I’m working on a longer piece responding to Lynch’s claims, but I’m not sure we, as writers, compositionists and even apocalyptic writers/compositionists, lack a clear and obvious path forward to engage with the issues of environmental calamnity.  Is not writing itself, the writing we do every day– poetry, blog posts, Tweets, Facebook shares, YouTube uploads, academic essays– a proper response? Do our actions not impact the anthropocene, ? When I post these brief paragraphs to my website in a moment, I will tag the post with environmentalism, and it will join the discourse of environmental writings that have been combatting the anthropocene since the 70’s.  Our efforts may not be adequate, but I fear they may be all that we have available in our quiver of scientific, technological and political tools.

Poetry– our poetry— may be the answer we’re looking for. Can writing be constructive?

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