In Breaking Up [at] Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter, Diane Davis (2000) argued that “to ‘teach’ writing is to push a worldview, a way of ordering ‘the world’” (p. 12). While Davis is careful to acknowledge that promoting a particular worldview through teaching is not in itself problematic (few today, after all, would claim that their pedagogies are capable of being ideologically or philosophically neutral), she nevertheless worried that by inviting students to order the world in specific ways writing theorists and instructors may eventually become “pushers” of that worldview—pushing, in this sense, a drug/pharmakon that can function in equal measure as both a poison and a remedy. According to Davis, when theorists and teachers assume responsibility for ordering the world in one way and not another they run the risk of perpetuating worldviews that, because they may seem at first natural and totalizing, leave little room for all of the inassimilable excesses and indeterminacies that undergird (and indeed make possible) any act of writing or meaning-making. “When we require students to write only according to the criteria associated with what Faigley calls ‘the modernist text,’” for example, we become, in Davis’s view, “pushers of hypotactic linking/thinking strategies; we push not simply a writing style but a value system that privileges hierarchy, mastery, and (Final) closure” (p. 12, emphasis in original).

I begin with Davis’s critique of the modernist worldview, and with our tendency as writing theorists and instructors to push certain worldviews and ways of ordering the world, because I think it poses important questions for scholars working in and on the edges of the field’s so-called “spatial turn.” As the question of space’s place in rhetoric and composition has become a mostly settled one in recent years, further questions have emerged regarding which methods, theories, and pedagogies are best suited to help us account for the spatiality (or, more accurately, the spatialities) of rhetoric and writing. And if the aim of this latest stage of the field’s spatial turn has been to develop what Nedra Reynolds (2004) has described as “new maps of writing” that “devote a layer to the where of writing—not just the places where writing occurs, but the sense of place and space that readers and writers bring with them to [the] intellectual work of writing, to navigating, arranging, remembering, and composing” (p. 176, emphasis original), then Davis’s insight into the pushing of worldviews becomes all the more pressing. Of course, any place-based theory or pedagogy will necessarily forward a distinct worldview, but the question worth asking, and the one Davis invites us to consider, is whether a particular spatial theory or pedagogy has become so entrenched and naturalized that it encourages researchers and instructors to presuppose the validity of its explanatory power and to in turn push a new map of writing that privileges hierarchy, mastery, and closure over openness, excess, and interruption.

In what follows, I explore in more detail how one of our field’s most influential frameworks for conceptualizing space, what I call here critical spatial theory, may in fact be steering our emerging worldviews of space and spatial praxis in directions of the modernist worldview as described by Davis. Originating largely in the critical theories and cultural geographies of Henri Lefebvre and Edward W. Soja, critical spatial theory situates itself as a response to various “containerized” conceptions of space and their tendencies to define space (if indeed it’s defined at all) as merely an inert thing in the world, something that surrounds and grounds human existence but that does not hold sway in any significant way in the production of political, social, and rhetorical relations. Against this widely held conception of space, critical spatial theory argues that space is always deeply implicated in the material conditions of a given time and place, and as such constitutes less a fixed, neutral, or transhistorical idea and more a dynamic, ongoing process of relations involving people, discourses, objects, ideologies, histories, and the built and natural environments that together help establish the conditions of lived experience in the world. Though by no means the only spatial framework in use or under development in the field today, this version of critical spatial theory has nevertheless gained significant traction among rhetoric and composition scholars, informing a growing number of place-based studies, from Nedra Reynolds (1998, 2004) and John Ackerman’s (2003) earliest encounters with Lefebvre and Soja’s works to Rhonda Grego and Nancy Thompson’s (2008) more recent efforts to rethink composition’s place in modern colleges and universities as embodying what Soja, after Lefebvre, called "thirdspace," or the "constantly shifting and changing milieu of ideas, events, appearances, and meanings" (Soja, 1996, p. 2).

Without question, these and other works by critical spatial theorists have succeeded in renewing the field’s awareness of space by foregrounding how our distinct modes of embodying, dwelling, and moving within space help constitute our rhetorical capacities and lived experiences in the world. For all of these successes, however (and they are indeed successes in my view), questions remain regarding the scope and limits of critical spatial theory itself and of the kind of worldview it invites us to accept and authorize. As I argue in this webtext, while critical spatial theory may be well-suited to help us critique space and spatial praxis from within a historical materialist framework, it has a great deal less to offer when it comes to examining other aspects of spatiality—including, as I discuss here, those “pre-reflective” (i.e. pre-theoretical, pre-representational, and pre-ideological) aspects of our embodied being-in-the-world—that, because they often fail to register at the level of conscious consideration, tend to belie critique’s abilities to demystify spatial relations and bring them under the regime of a concept capable of being known and represented within various symbolic structures.

Put simply, I propose that there’s more going on, and more at stake, in our spatial rhetorics and pedagogies than what critical spatial theory and its methodologies of critique and representation have prepared us to address. With this aim in mind, I’m interested specifically in how the body’s unconscious or “unclaimed experiences,” as Cathy Caruth (1996) termed them, materialize in our discussions of space and spatial praxes, and what it might mean for our spatial rhetorics and pedagogies to imagine these unclaimed experiences otherwise—as not simply the experiential resources that we or our students might draw upon to critique or represent spatial production, but also as the productive starting points for new conversations, in both our theories and classrooms, about the perils and possibilities of writing (about) space at the limits of representation.

After first examining critical spatial theory and its emerging place in spatial rhetorics and pedagogy, I turn in the third node of this webtext to the philosophical school of phenomenology, which offers a valuable alternative to critical spatial theory’s emphases on critique and representation as the primary methods for interpreting lived spatial existence. In contrast to the conception of space we find in Lefebvre and Soja, phenomenologists such as Martin Heidegger (1927/1962) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945/2007) insisted on the constitutive but otherwise irreducible nature of our embodied being-in-the-world. In their respective discussions of space, or “world” as they prefer, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty argued that it’s our pre-reflective embodied being-in-the-world—the way, for example, our bodies unconsciously record and make tacit adjustments to objects, affects, and others without our having to first form ideas or theories about them—that, paradoxically, establishes the conditions of possibility for lived existence while at the same time making difficult, if not impossible, efforts to render these pre-reflective and immemorial traces of experience present as ex post facto objects of knowledge or theorization.

This difficulty, which speaks to an aporia at play in our emerging conversations about space between lived existence and the representations we construct (and that we ask students to construct) of it, has been further commented upon by theorists and rhetoricians such as Maurice Blanchot (1980/1995), Cathy Caruth (1996), and Michael Bernard-Donals (2001, 2009), all of whom, like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, invite place-based researchers and instructors to consider the tremendous challenges writers face when they attempt to represent the extra-rationality of past events, especially pre-reflective sensations or traumas, through the language of history or experience. In such cases, as Bernard-Donals and others have argued, writing invariably falls short of its charge to recuperate the precise cause and significance of such events for the simple reason that the event itself “did not register on, let alone become integrated into, the consciousness of” the writer (Bernard-Donals, 2001, p. 145). The most we can hope for writing, then, is that it remind us of these events rather than represent them to us.

To further explore these ideas regarding the limits of representation and their implications for spatial rhetorics and place-based writing pedagogies, I turn in the latter portions of this webtext to Christian Nold’s Bio Mapping project, juxtaposing it with several critical spatial theories and pedagogies, including Nedra Reynolds’s (2004) “Mapping URI” assignment, which is described at the close of Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. San Fran Emotion MapAlthough it shares a great deal with these projects, Nold’s project differs insofar as it has foregrounded the problems memory and representation pose for our abilities to fully explain how we felt at a particular time and place. Using mobile technologies such as a GPS and basic biometrics such as galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors, Nold’s project enabled participants to record their emotional responses while walking through a neighborhood, town, or city. Once uploaded to his custom-built mapping software, the data collected by the GPS and GSR sensors combine to generate what Nold called an “Emotion Map,” a visual representation of the participant’s emotional states as they occurred during his or her walk. In a series of follow-up interviews, Nold invited participants to narrate their Emotion Maps, explaining why, for example, the GSR sensors spiked at one particular location but not another. Although most participants managed to craft persuasive narratives about their emotional states, in many cases their abilities to do so were frustrated by their inability to fully recollect the origins or meanings of these spatial events and their pre-reflective impingements on the body.

Through its attunement to our pre-reflective being-in-the-world, Nold’s project offers a possible alternative to critical spatial theory and the worldview it forwards, which suggests that embodied spatial practices should not only be recovered and represented but that it’s possible (and necessary) to do so in the first place. Specifically, Nold’s Bio Mapping project suggests new opportunities for rethinking critical spatial theory and place-based writing pedagogies at the limits of representation. I consider this more inventive possibility in the fifth and final node of the webtext when I put the lessons learned from phenomenology and Bio Mapping into direct conversation with some recent discussions of critical pedagogy as well as a specific writing assignment I developed that invited students to write about their memories of September 11, 2001 and to attend at the same time to issues related to writing, memory, and representation. Collectively, phenomenology, Bio Mapping, and my “Engaging Memory/Representing Trauma” assignment suggest that, in our eagerness to attune students to the importance of place, memory, and embodiment, we mustn’t overlook how events themselves often serve to undercut our efforts to discursively represent these same events as "new maps of writing." Far from constituting the outright failures of spatial rhetorics and pedagogy, however, these recurrent interruptions in our abilities to recuperate what is otherwise lost to knowledge or experience may in fact serve as important points of emphasis and departure for future theories and pedagogies, particularly those attuned to the challenges and opportunities embodied being-in-the-world poses for writers working at the limits of representation.

Space matters, and regardless of our commitments to one theoretical framework or another, we should continue to invite students to write about space and about their embodied experiences with/in space. In so doing, however, we should be mindful of the worldviews our spatial rhetorics and pedagogies present and authorize, however implicitly. When it comes to critical spatial theory in particular, the consequences of pushing a worldview that privileges rationality, critique, and demystification at the expense of excess, openness, and interruption may prove quite high indeed. When we presume an ability on the part of student writers to devise clear and coherent ways to represent the conditions of lived spatiality (in effect, to make space and lived spatial experiences representable in writing and thus knowable as objects of inquiry), we not only fail to make room for those things that can’t be fully represented in writing—those embodied, pre-reflective sensations which have significant effects on writing and memory but which may be impossible to memorialize as such in writing itself. We may also, and more seriously, run the risk of committing what Judith Butler (2005) has called acts of “ethical violence.”

According to Butler, an act of ethical violence occurs when we ask of the other the question “who are you?” and demand in return a satisfactory response capable of presenting a clear and coherent image of the other’s self. Though often couched in the name of ethics, such acts, Butler has argued, nevertheless demand of the other something she cannot possibly provide—namely, an account of the self that is self-identical with the “I” in whose name she speaks. As Butler argues, and as I argue here in terms of the phenomenological idea of being-in-the-world and Nold’s Bio Mapping project, the self can never be reduced entirely to the images or descriptions offered of it. To expect otherwise—to expect, in other words, that students’ written accounts of their own spatial experiences will somehow make coherent the meaning of their embodied being-in-the-world—is to demand of the student nothing less than the “falsification of [her] life in order to satisfy the criterion of a certain kind of ethics” (Butler, 2005, p. 63), one that first and foremost requires a full and complete disavowal of one’s sense of otherness or opacity to oneself.

If the stakes of not taking seriously the limits of representation are as high as Butler claimed, then the challenge we face as spatial theorists and instructors is to find ways to acknowledge and work creatively with those irreducible aspects of embodied being-in-the-world that haunt the accounts we offer of ourselves but that may never find a comfortable place in the discourses we rely upon to represent and memorialize those accounts. For Butler, the best way to contest ethical violence is, at its simplest, to never expect a satisfactory response to the “Who are you?” question. “By not pursuing satisfaction and by letting the question remain open, even enduring,” she argued, “we let the other live, since life might be understood as precisely that which exceeds any account we may give of it” (p. 43). Letting the other live by letting the other be in her ownmost opacity to herself is, I argue, the ethical impetus at the heart of Nold’s Bio Mapping project and the phenomenological conception of space as being-in-the-world. It is also the ethical disposition that leaves open and unresolved the impasse between memory and the immemorial and that in turn makes possible, and urgent, our efforts to re-imagine place-based writing at the limits of representation, as embodying not only our “geographies of writing” but, as I discuss in the final node of the webtext, our “psychogeographies of writing” as well.