It’s below freezing and snowing. The University campus is closed. I work in front of the blue screen most of the day. Doing what teachers, students, and writers do these days. Fingers rhythmically tapping on a key board. The power is on and I’m one of the lucky ones with shelter and enough financial fluidity to pay my energy bill even when I don’t have an income that matches my budget. I am warm and in debt. Snow blankets this Pacific Northwest city
and things shut down, people get giddy — tuning into school closures, abandoning cars mid-trip or in random parking stalls. I grew up here – it was like this throughout my childhood. It’s magical when snow falls around here. Yesterday, I overheard a young person from upper Michigan, laughing about this naive response, calling it “snowpocalypse”. I don’t know when people started using the term snowpocalypse in our region — but it’s a recent turn, suggestive of end times, an acknowledgement, a sideways glance.
On a long walk through a city park, I happen upon dozens of winter wrens uncharacteristically revealing themselves, willing to be directly seen but too quick for my fumbling phone photography – They flit and peck, land on branches and in the boot-trodden path through the trees. For some reason, I am suddenly filled with hope, halted in the middle of their hungry behavior, the powers of regeneration and survival are palpable in this tiny patch of city woods. Light filters in
snow-covering called blanket melts quickly here.
The Apocalyptic Turn
I just read Paul Lynch’s 2012 article on “The Apocalyptic Turn” of rhet-comp studies: “a turn in which the end of the world looms ever larger in our disciplinary and pedagogical imagination.” In the paper’s margins, I do a 2020 update of his list of apocalyptic events, adding Australia’s fires and Tahlequah, the orca mother who carried her dead calf for 17 days and over 1,000 miles of mourning in the Salish Sea. How are we listening to these events? Lynch writes: “…disaster, like language, speaks us as much as we speak it.” Collective mourners, we tune and turn ourselves to them. Paul Lynch urges “a Thing” in composition studies, a thing that takes all actors, human and nonhuman into account” – a thing that extends rather than reduces – one that values creation, contemplation, connection, and cultivation over critique. Dear colleagues, what of our outcomes?
Apocalypse as we commonly hear it carries biblical connotations from the Judaic and Christian traditions calling to mind cataclysmic end times – a destruction that also brings forth a revelation. The word occurs to me as palimpsest — written over and through Greek language and mythology. Graph, trace, uncover, reveal
Old English, via Old French and ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apokalupsis, from apokaluptein‘uncover, reveal’, from apo-‘un-’ + kaluptein‘to cover’.
A few days ago, The New York Times published an oped piece by Ross Douthat titled “The Academic Apocalypse.” Douthat’s Endgame is the end of the humanities, and in particular the study of literature. His suggestions for survival? A new cannon – “a thing” deemed worthy of study by academics – not simply approaches or ways of thinking. His closing line: “But the path to recovery begins there, with a renewed faith not only in humanism’s methods and approaches, but in the very thing itself.” He urges those of us as “experts” in the discipline to settle the matter of the thing itself.
Douthat’s thing is not Lynch’s thing.
Thing contained, enclosed, fenced, managed, professional, or loose cannons called methods, approaches, habits of mind.
But what if the thing itself is expansive, inclusive, morphing, immediate, alive, unmanageable, earthly, unhinged, transgressive and uncontested because there is no contest during End Game?
Everything is shifting every moment, suppose that each moment is – and always has been – apocalyptic, is disclosure. Marilyn Cooper, in The Animal Who Writes: a post humanist composition quotes Heidegger’s “lengthy consideration of disclosure in Parmenides: “Disclosure does not simply reveal what was hidden, it brings into active being, as in the dissemination of seed. The enclosure in which a being attains to Being is the open, a space in which humans see the truth of Being” (34). Winter Wrens appear. I attend to wrens’ appearances. Cooper urges “enchanted writing”, walls of dry stone rather than cement (disclosure is also enclosure), she writes: “I understand creativity as arising in reciprocal intra-action, and value creative writing as pragmatic: serving external rather than intrinsic purposes”. Writing, matter, making, things.
Weeds growing in the wall of dry stones matter as much as the wall, or more perhaps.