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The (I) of the Text: Visualizing Writing Subjects in Art Education

An accumulation of uncertainties and becomings, this site provides a space for exploring arts-based writing processes in education.

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What is said is always in relation to what will never be expressed. At these extreme limits we recognize ourselves.    Edmond Jabès, 1993

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How does writing appear?

Compression (above) is a pictorial representation of my experience of conceptualizing the process of writing. I think of it as a landscape glimpsed, a scenic-becoming. It has taken years of drawing and writing to create this scene; and I continue to revise the composition. This lifelong project, representation of meaning, is a Sisyphean endeavor. New experiences, new awarenesses, new iterations; meaning is always in motion, always in process, always on the way….Always already.

The open area in the center of the image gestures toward the effort to clear space for the presence of uncertainties, explorations, and discoveries; an effort to hold open and even preserve the tension between the blurriness of wondering and the sharpened acuities of language and expression. In my writing as well as in my teaching, I seek ruptures where doubt can push up against certainty, unfurling questions and inviting possibilities.

Long before I began my dissertation research of post-secondary writing instruction in art education, Compression was present. Not in a literal, visible sense, but as a organizing structure in my unconscious: affects associated with my writing and art making processes. Seeking to understand the delicate negotiations of subjectivity and visibility that emerge in the process of teaching/learning visual culture criticism writing, I was struck by the frequent incongruity of what is written and what is read. My fascination with writing continues. Currently, I teach arts-based writing as a mode of research ideation, inquiry, and dissemination. I also approach writing in a more expansive way, viewing it as a starting point for engaging in dialogues across disciplines and differences. Where I once questioned what/how writing means for artists who have at their disposal so many other tools of representation, I now seek to employ writing as a mechanism for exposing, and learning from, the fragility and fallibility of human communication. 

So, while Compression emerged from my efforts to signify how writing “looks and feels” to me at a particular juncture, it persists as a kind of armature or laboratory that harbors ongoing visual and theoretical investigations of meaning-making, in general. This image has become a philosophical, visual reflection of what/how teaching means to me; it exemplifies the ever-present processes of becoming (a visible) subject.

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Writer identity: A subtext

Lacanian theory views the human subject who thinks and speaks and interacts with others as the Imaginary register of the ego, the “me” that fits with one’s self-image, a coherent, unified sense of self. However, because one’s perception of self-unity and coherence is formed from repression of desires that threaten to disrupt the stability of what is perceived as “me” or “I,” conscious subjectivity is not the complete story of a subject’s self. The self is also comprised of the unconscious, the knowledge that a subject cannot bear to know.

Unbearable knowledge is inaccessible to conscious awareness. Yet, paradoxically, as the most intimate aspect of subjectivity, the unconscious reveals itself to others without our conscious awareness. The extimate unconscious is also the traumatic kernel of being around which all signifiers circulate in the service of repressing and deferring what one cannot bear to know—this process constitutes what we know as identity. Each person has their own traumatic kernel, their own unthought unknown.

Paradoxically for educators, unconscious desire for ignorance is much more powerful than a conscious desire to know. Only by loosening one’s grasp on truth, and by learning to dwell in the anxiety of uncertainty, can clearings open up for building sense differently, building something other.    

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