Agency and Interruption (Reynolds)

Among other things, I’ll need to be able to talk intelligently about agency. Reynolds should help. I’m sure there’s a bitterly self-aware feminist critique of my shorthand noting of this article and it’s place in the day’s reading/writing, but I’m not ready to go there today. I’ll come back to Reynolds’ definition of the postmodern agent and rationale for moving beyond the essay many times, especially as I get into critical analysis and new media rhetoric, so I’ll be brief today and allow her to interrupt my readings later as she will.

Reynolds, Nedra. “Interrupting Our Way to Agency: Feminist Cultural Studies and Composition.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2009. 897-910. Print.

“Postmodernism poses a keen problem for composition, particularly when agency or an active writing subject is involved” (897). In pomo, the subject has no agency or choice; what, then, is left for the point of composition instruction? According to Reynolds, “feminists need a concept of agency in order to work and hope for social change; writers need a concept of agency in order to write a page, make a claim, or extend an idea” (897). Theorists (and not just feminists, I’d say) need “a postmodern agent, one not limited to modernist or essentialist notions of the writer but one not incapable, either, of action or choice” (897). Such a definition of agency needs: to be capable of taking in multiple competing subjectivites and still empowering resistance to ideological pressure.

  • Definition of agency: “Agency is not simply about finding one’s own voice but also about intervening in discourses of the everyday and cultivating rhetorical tactics that make interruption and resistance an important part of any conversation” (898).

For Reynolds, the means of agency (and the central activity/idea of her article) is interruption, which she wants to become “part of a tactical rhetoric for marginalized speakers and writers” (898), that is, a tactical rhetoric of “everyday acts of public discourse” (907). A large part of the article is cultural analysis, in which Reynolds describes feminism’s agent-less status in early cultural studies, the way feminism’s interruption was narrated by the CCCS, the ways feminists interrupted those conversations, and the ways feminist cultural studies work in composition has been largely ignored by key ideological figures in composition studies. Rich historical/critical discussion.

The writing studies hows of her critical studies whys that are particularly important to my writing and thinking here:

  • interruption is effective in spaces where physical presence heightens effects (conferences, classrooms, tables), teachers should take the opportunity to discuss, model, and practice interruption
  • writing studies needs to investigate interruptions possible in written texts
  • writing studies needs to offer forms of resistance to standard forms (formal essay, Standard English), “For composition we need to rethink radically the forms of writing we find acceptable. The result might be the breakdown of some of the rigid boundaries that separate life and politics inside and outside the academy” (907)

A breakdown and interruption that also makes me think of digital underlives, interrupting the academy, knowledge, hierarchy, attention economies, and the like. Notes for the future.

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2 thoughts on “Agency and Interruption (Reynolds)

  1. Useful article on agency, but I agree with you that interruption is an important part of agency for any marginalized individual/group in a Conversation (give-and-take involving rhetoric whatever the mode/medium). I particularly like the concept of interruption as a form of resistance. Does Reynolds define resistance? In addition to overt resistance, using interruption to simply slow down the Conversation, getting participants to pause, listen openly, and reflect on what has been said seems a constructive rhetorical tool. I’m adding this one to my list – thanks!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kim.

    I don’t think she defines resistance in her essay, she’s more interested in theorizing and exemplifying interruption as something beyond “unseemly noise” (i.e. Hall describes feminists as having farted in the room, crapping on the theory-table of white male-dominated cultural studies). Interruption as resistance is “tactically speaking in strategic loci” (hooks qtd in Reynolds). I think agency is itself a form of resistance, through joining the conversation and (re)making their own history.

    She relies a lot on bell hooks and Stuart Hall, and there’s a definition of resistance to be read in that combo, I’m sure. I’m not as up on hooks as I ought to be.

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