Response: Digital Griots
I appreciated Adam Banks’ attempt to bring together the African oral tradition and the art of the DJ in order to discuss the future of technology based learning for African Americans. One of the most important lessons I believe we learned this semester is the important role of the ‘fifth canon’ or delivery in composition instruction. In my own courses, I have always taught all five canons to my students even if I did not realize it. Instead of focusing simply on the three popular rhetorical appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos, I would always include the other, less often taught appeals of kairos and telos. For this reason, I believe that what Banks is doing with his text is admirable, despite the fact that I altogether had a difficult time with most of it. Western oral tradition, in the style of the Greeks and Romans, has been handed down through the generations and continues to influence curricula everywhere. By asking instructors to consider the oral traditions of other cultures (not just those from Africa or antebellum America) when teaching their students, we create a more inclusive environment which will help all students feel more comfortable creating.
Banks offers several suggestions, including an entire course design, on how one might integrate this griotic style in the classroom. He also stresses the importance of allowing students to remain in conversation with their own traditions and spheres of influence. Several times he discussed how demonizing Ebonics ultimately hurt the black community of students. I understand and appreciate his sentiment; however, I must argue that there is a time and a place for everything – including the ways in which one presents themselves through dress, body language, and speech. It is important to recognize the value of localized speech habits and to teach students that they are not required to isolate themselves from their communities once they have a degree in hand while at the same time teaching them to recognize that while some assignments may allow a greater freedom in grammar and syntax, there will be some assignments for which they will be required to use academic standards. I do not believe this harms the student, quite the contrary, I believe it is safe to assume that future employers will hesitate to consider a job candidate who does not adhere to specific standards during an interview or in a cover letter.
My issue with Banks’ text is one I take with similar types of arguments. During the Civil Rights movement, black Americans fought against the “separate but equal” arguments in order to gain the equality they rightfully deserved. Now, in a time when everything must be so PC that basically everything can be deemed offensive, it seems as though there is a new argument: “equal, but separate.” There is a strong push for equality and equal opportunity while at the same time non-majority communities insist on exploiting their differences from the majority. It does not help either community if we, as instructors, are holding different groups of students to different standards. Instead, we must recognize that not every student has had the same opportunities as the others and teach in a way which is fair and not patronizing. If our job is to teach students how to compose or communicate, then it seems reasonable that we would teach them several modes of these (which include examples such as the DJ or other forms or oral traditions). To this extent, I agree with Banks’ mission. We have also discussed at several points this semester the daunting realization that as universities wheedle out a variety of humanity courses, the ball falls in our court as writing instructors to teach other skills. The writing classroom teaches students important lessons about communication, community, etc. When it becomes our duty to teach life skills, cultural anthropology, computer skills, etc…something valuable will be lost along the way. I do not know if there is any way to prevent this from happening, nor do I have a valid suggestion for a solution; all I know is this is an issue that lingers somewhere for all of us.
My final question, and I mean this in absolute sincerity and without malice, is how are we, as members of the majority, supposed to authentically approach the materials Banks discusses without it being misconstrued as racist or appropriation? How will our black students take us seriously if we discuss their cultural history as though we have knowledge of it? Personally, I have a great knowledge and understanding of the Blues and have used songs in my classroom before – and I was met with questioning eyes. This is a real issue and I hope that there is a good solution for this one.
Reading Response: Adam J. Banks “Digital Griots” 4-9-2014
I can summarize my reaction to this text very simply: Banks’ application of the griot aligns with what I’ve come to think of as techne, that is, the “soul” of the process, the poeisis, but just because the two align does not mean they are interchangeable. In fact, it would be unconscionable to do interpret them as such – an example of cultural smothering and appropriation.
On the other side of the coin, Banks plays with this sort of role interoperability (observe chapter 2 as he rattles off the griot / teacher / preacher, painting these three with a broad brush). But that’s fine because even though I’m arguing that it’s inappropriate to appropriate in this case, it’s still important to emphasize the similarity because Banks’ educational reform move seems likely to happen by degrees. If we’re having enough difficulty clarifying the distinction between “ecological” and “contextual,” conjoinng “griot” to “rhetor” may be a risky maneuver, difficult to undo later.
Because for all the similarity, a griot seems to me a particular sort of communicator – the best sort of rhetor, one who is contextually aware and responsive, one particularly bound to his or her discourse community and works something like a conscience, guiding that community (the Village) to its best advantage via persuasion.
I think one of the best aspects of Banks’ work comes across in the “remix” chapter which, if I follow the thread correctly, expresses one of the tensions between griotic and academic discourse: the idea that the past is up for grabs. To the griot, what has come before can be invoked in its entirety, or piecemeal. The spirit of the thing can be invoked, or its actual presence, in practices that Eurocentric “traditional” academe might call plagiarism. However there is also the outright rejection / reconciliation of the “old school,” something of a “prodigal son” narrative at work in griotic discourse that I think Eurocentric discourse tries to smother by means of veneration and discourse in the Foucaultian sense.
In a concluding note, I am thinking of the chapter titled “mixtape,” and beginning to comprehend a different aporiatic destination in griotic dialogue evidenced best maybe by one line on page 132 defining the central message of the Christian faith as liberation, and not hope. I return to my earlier point: to conflate griotic rhetoric with Eurocentric techne denies key differences in cultural ecology, if not metaphysical grounding – differences which, when honored, will hopefully lead to liberation. See what I did there? I have fun with words.
SUPPLEMENTAL: Because I had some tangentially related thoughts that might be worthy of discussion, I will add them here:
p. 64-ish, building “community,” attempts to de-communalize education (standardized testing, etc – no local context, uniformity). Griot as solution? Griot at least as component?
De-structuring the class session: get some food and music in there. What the hell, why not ?
Do we like standing in front of a classroom lecturing? Do we like homework? Are the forms we teach so universally revered that they MUST be learned? Aren’t most of our students just learning what we tell them to so that they can get a B- and get on with their lives? This is antirhetorical.
Primailry what I gleaned from Digital Griots involves the purpose of multimedia composition and the places where it exists and operates. The griot, who Adam Banks likens to the DJ, I would extend to a variety of artists who emphasize community collectivism as the purpose of their work: the folk singer, punk rocker, performance artist, zine producer, etc., or any expressionist who seeks to inspire the movement and evolution of a message, sharing of radical knowledge and diversified enculturation rather than to provide shallow entertainment. Personally as an artist with a critical voice, I got the most out of Digital Griots than any other book we’ve read in terms of how to operate in the world as someone in the business of attempting to generate radical awareness. This book provides inspiration for someone seeking to actively use their compositionist faculties in the world outside the classroom, and Banks offers several reminders why we may be interested in doing so.
I was able to distance myself from his emphasis on African-Americanism and apply this perspective to myself as a multimodal compositionist, public artist and performer (and also occasional DJ) and what I appreciated most from this outlook is the emphasis on bridging gaps in perspectives, tastes, experiences, perceived notions of proper behavior, subjectivities, and the notion of a writeable history based on how one mashes up these perceptions and histories, allowing for recognition and relatability to compile a present entirely faithful and dependent on what came before it, inclusive of previous elements that may have gone unperceived or biased against due to lack of exposure, misunderstanding or ignorance. Creating a mix out of grooves and samples across generations is an artistic statement that suggests that subjectivities (and sometimes moralities) can work together to represent a contemporary world without completely crumbling under the weight of any one influence. It can serve as the moment of surrender of any supremacy of perspective outside that of the holistic, as the DJ presents any one element as a sample within the greater whole that the griot has the vision to perceive. But the mix is not assembled in a way that takes advantage of or takes for granted any of its parts, but proclaims equal respect and recognition of seemingly oppositional attributes. The mix transcends the sample while holding it in esteem in an attempt to facilitate a community that may otherwise lack the exposure to experiences or perspectives. The DJ/griot accurately represents a compiling and complementary approach to composition.
The digital world vastly increases out stock of samples, or sources to mix. The digital griot is no longer limited by audio samples and the club or radio environment, but can create any form out of any medium. The griotic possibilities for this generation are endless in an environment rife with stock images, sounds, histories, knowledge, and it is only a conscious choice of how to navigate and assemble that can make griots of many of us. It’s just a matter of choosing to use technology and voice for the purpose of community formation and to respond against dominant discourse and perspective. It all comes down to purpose for navigating the digital dance-floor, and the infinitude of samples and beats.
Although Adam J. Banks talks about African American rhetoric, I realize that his “remixing” method is able to be applied to the rhetoric of my country. This week’s response, therefore, is really personal but I want to think how “remix” is useful to Korean young and old generations.
Two years ago during the presidential election period, the discordance between younger and older generations exploded and resulted in winning the first female president in Korea. This was not a victory of the young generation but of the old generation because the president is the daughter of the past president who has been admired by the old and critiqued by the young. From that moment, stories of the past began to pour out in purpose of blaming younger generation in that they did not know difficulties, they were not diligent, etc. With these, generational gap has been getting deeper and deeper. However, Banks suggests that “back in the day” narrative “is [talking] about right now” and it is the first step to synchronizing old and new schools by “[remixing] history in order to point a new way forward” (100). I am curious how this works because the younger generation many times blocks their ears in the first place and never even tries to listen to stories of the older generation’s.
So Banks brings a mediator between generations and one example is “the DJ, the digital griot” that “can link print, oral, and digital texts, that can reconnect African Americans on both sides of the generational chasm in the search for fulfilling futures” (103). As a storyteller, DJs stand in the midst of both generations: they are familiar with not only past stories but also technologies. However, the DJ is not appropriate in Korean situation. Then who can be a digital griot? As Banks also points out that “we must begin to line up the theoretical, ethical, and linguistic grooves to the questions of a changing same era to ensure smooth blends in the remix that is to come” (104, my emphasis), it is an educator’s role to play a digital griot and it must be done by us. As DJs connect and reconnect two generations by remixing history with Hip Hop music, Banks has been doing many projects to fill the gaps between people in educational field, especially through writing of which he is an expert. I think his way is a bit utopian because I don’t think this would bring positive results directly. However, this is another opportunity to reconnect generations by telling old narrative in digital ways to which the young is able to access. As Banks writes, we must do this if we wanted to fill the gap and to bring reconciliation between two generations. Thus, I believe that remix is worth trying in that it functions to start conversation between generations and finally to link history from the past to the present.
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