Bringing Clemson & USC together: 1st Annual Carolina Rhetoric Conference: In an attempt to create a space where doctoral students could meet, share work, get feedback, and improve papers and presentations for other conferences (ranging from CCCC to RSA to MLA and so on), the RCID students joined the USC Rhetoric & Composition students for a weekend conference: the 1st annual Carolina Rhetoric Conference (CRC).
The CRC, which was sponsored by the recently founded Rhetoric Society of America chapter at USC, took place on February 22 & 23, 2008. The conference opened on Friday with a brief reception and opening remarks by conference coordinator Paul G. Cook, and then was launched with the first session of the event, “Dynamic Connections: Bodies & Authority.” Two of the three speakers of this first session were RCID students. Amanda K. Booher gave her presentation, ” ‘I’m just Cherry’: The Role of Zombie Amputations and Machine Gun Legs in Reconceptualizing the Body.” Using examples of Oscar Pistorius denial to be allowed to participate in the Olympic games due to his prosthetic blades–making him both “disabled and super-abled”–and the character Cherry Darling, from the Tarantino & Rodriguez film Grindhouse, who “becomes who she was meant to be” once her boyfriend makes her an assault rifle/grenade launcher prosthetic leg, Amanda explored the relationships between bodies, prosthetics, and perception–particularly in relation to how technology (and the merging of human and machine) alters the way we conceive of (receive) bodies.
In the same panel, John Dinolfo delivered a talk titled, “Seeing Cells: Teaching the Visual and Verbal Rhetoric of Biology.” John’s discussion centered on the collaborative research between himself, Barbara Heifferon (former associate professor at Clemson, now Department Chair of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology), and Lesly Temesvari (Associate Professor of Biology, Clemson University). Their pilot study,* which was published in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication last fall, explored the rhetorics involved in microscopy instruction and attempted to understand how students came to see, interpret, make sense of, and recognize cellular images (and imagery).
Following the opening session on Friday night, there was a presentation by USC faculty member John Muckelbauer, the Keynote Speaker for the event, and then a “kick-off party” hosted by USC student Eme Crawford. This sharing of “drinks” and “breaking of bread” worked exceptionally well at opening numerous conversations (scholar, professional, personal) and created an opportunity to get to know one another in an informal, yet dynamically engaging environment (much in the spirit of our own Society of the Third Sophistic meetings).
The next day, after a couple of sessions in the morning, many ventured to the Salty Nut (restaurant in 5 points, in Columbia) to “break bread” once again. We had conversations ranging from issues in Basic & Developmental writing, to the experiences of being a doctoral student, to the roles of identity, the problems of definitions, comics, films, food, travel, and so on. It was a delectable lunch with delightful conversation, and helped to further establish the connections and links being formed at the conference. Following lunch, we ventured back to Gambrell Hall for the last 2 sessions of the day: the first, “Composition Pedagogy: Visions & Revisions” featured two RCID students, Justin Hodgson and Sergio Figueiredo, and the second (and last session of the day), “Rhetorical Appropriations of Antiquity,” also featured two RCID students, Dev Bose and Jason Helms.
Justin’s presentation, “Blurring the Boundaries of Writing and Speaking: A Pilot Project,” explored a recent pilot project he put together at Clemson that integrally links Business Writing and Public Speaking. By having the same students in both his courses, Justin is able to focus on “professional rhetorics” and preparing students for writing, speaking, and multimedia creating for a variety of rhetorical situations. His presentation looked at how rhetorics have become the “handmaiden of writing and speech” in the last century and a half, and how we need to resituate our focus on rhetorics, moving back to its place in the trivium, and attempt to “detonate” the great divide(s) that exist between writing and speaking (and English & Communication Studies)—and his pragmatic application of this is his pilot project.
In his presentation, “Developing a Writing Process Across Media,” Sergio Figueirdo talked about his explorations of the connections between poetry, free writing, and storyboarding. Detailing how he worked with students in Jason Helms writing course, Sergio discussed the process of using storyboards (and image design) as ways for helping students think through and engage ideas. He talked about how some students did literal translations of their poetic interpretations and how others worked more creatively with the material. Acknowledging some resistant areas he encountered, Sergio went on to briefly discuss the relationships he saw between the students reading of poetry and the role/function of storyboarding.
In the last session of the day, Dev Bose led things off with is talk, “Sophistic Influences on Marxist Rhetorics.” Working with three sophists (Protagoras, Democritus, and Gorgias), Dev attempted to explore the connections between their work and influence of Marxist rhetorics–specifically through a process of connecting them with the works and ideas of a few post-marxists. Dev’s examination traced faint lines between the role of community, the function of the polis, and the implications of logos in relation to these things, as well as the Marxist theories that would (could) evolve from them.
The last RCID student to present was Jason Helms, who delivered his presentation/paper, “300: From Cool Comic to Cool Film.” Jason ventured through the nuances of McLuhan’s distinctions of hot and cool media, and then began to problematize those distinctions as well as explore the relations of them to comics. Specifically, working with Frank Miller’s comic 300, and then looking at Zack Synder’s film adaptation of that work, Jason discussed the intricacies of moving a cool media into a hot media, but doing so in an attempt to retain its “coolness” (in the McLuhan sense). The presentation also provided an illustration of the connections of Miller’s style (which is/was unique to the comic scene) and Synder’s adaptation, which focused specifically on recreating Miller’s style in a film medium, and how that connection to style played a role in creating this “cool” film.
Following the last session, and some brief closing remarks, the conference came to an end, and the RCID students began the journey back to Clemson University, many reflecting during the drive on how beneficial it was to give their presentations a practice run to a live (and questioning) audience. With the benefits being so self-evident, plans have already begun for the RCIDers to return the favor and host the CRC at Clemson University next year—including extending an invitation to our rhetorical brothers and sisters at N.C. State to join the fun, collegial, positive weekend of scholarship and friendship that is the Carolina Rhetoric Conference.
*Pilot study for Seeing Cells: Teaching the Visual and Verbal Rhetoric of Biology. Technical Writing and Communication, 37.4: 395-417.