What Fashioning Lives Gave Me

I’m not sure what it was I was expecting from this week’s reading, but whatever it was, I am compelled to say that in Pritchard’s work I encountered something decidedly much different. The reason for that, I suspect, has something to do with the timing of this reading in relation to the conversations we have been having in our seminar.

In our discussions, I have frequently referred to institutional literacies as the circuitry through which we are usually compelled to navigate ourselves. In my view, these literacies are manifested across a variety of rhetorical circumstances—some linguistic, some physiological, some political, some emotional, and so on. At risk of getting a bit Foucaltian (much as I am loathe to do so in a space where I am generally trying to center “non-traditional” theorists in my thinking), each of these literacies and their precipitating circumstances are manifestations of power and beings’ (in this case, I’m speaking of humans across a broad spectrum of experience) myriad negotiations with it.

Verbally, I have had some difficulty articulating this concept gracefully. I have often described what I mean when talking about navigating and negotiating these “power literacies” as, like, occupying positions of variant privilege on what I call a “matrix”—a grid of possibilities that is not necessarily always hierarchical but which, by virtue of whatever spot a being occupies, assigns a range of privileges and challenges with which a person must negotiate their experience of this life (some attributes therein being fixed as far as I can imagine, like blackness in a system of white supremacy; and other attributes being not so fixed, like economic class to a limited degree or temporality). Thanks to Fashioning Lives, however, I am now lucky enough to have more tools in my rhetorical arsenal to talk about what I mean. To be, well, Pritchardian, I can now think about these negotiations with power in terms of what he calls “positionality”, and can think of rhetorical/literacy-based power as (at least in part) an ability to alter positionality or to manipulate the situations that contain position—essentially “reframing the terms of the debate”. This is a power decidedly different from what I’d call agency—or the choices we make as individuals with whatever tools we have available to us—and being able to distinguish between these various factors is important to understanding how communities of meaning, rhetorics of community, and rhetorics of the self really interact. With Pritchard in mind, I feel like I’m better able to interrogate this than I was before; his text offers an exceptionally clear depiction of all this.

The other thing that Pritchard’s work helped me to think about is white heteropatriarchy as a matter of normativity—and normativity’s “seductions”. In discussing power and situation and agency and rhetorics of being as I have, in our discussions I’ve frequently talked about my dealings with white supremacy (and other manifestations of the mythical ideal or mythical vista “Man” construct that Sylvia Wynter describes in “Unsettling the Coloniality Being/Power/Truth/Freedom”) as “institutional circuitry that we MUST navigate”—as a matter of fate resigned. By putting a name to this, describing as normativity, Pritchard does an incredible job of transforming what seems so large and so impossible to escape as but another possibility—one that has seduced many minds into believing that it is the ONLY possibility—but a situation rather than a fate nonetheless. That’s powerful and has given me cause to rethink how I talk about our dealings with institutions of heteronormativity and patriarchy and supremacy. Beyond such a situation, beyond the “standard”, there is the queer; in the queer, there is endless possibility.

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