Notes: Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, “Flattening Effects: Composition’s Multicultural Imperative and the Problem of Narrative Coherence”

Alexander, Jonathan & Jacqueline Rhodes. (2014). Flattening effects: Composition’s multicultural imperative and the problem of narrative coherence. College Composition and Communication, 65(3), 430-454.


Alexander and Rhodes trouble, indeed, queer the problematic ways in which multiculturalism has often been taken up in composition studies and analyzing trope prompts used to address multiculturalism. To avoid what they call a “flattening effect”, they offer insights into assignments and a writing classroom that keeps identity separate from the identifiable and that does not rely on narrative cohesion, but celebrates the unknown.

Keywords: composition, critical pedagogy, cultural rhetorics, multiculturalism, pedagogy, queer, queer rhetorics, queer theory, writing studies


Alexander, Jonathan, & Jacqueline Rhodes. (2011). Queer: An impossible subject for composition. JAC, 31(1–2), 177–206.

Banks, William P. (2005). The values of queer jacketing: What happens when student writers go gay? MEAT Journal, 1(2).


“Inclusive narratives of queerness used in many composition courses engage simultaneously in a flattening effect and a flattening of affect—that is, they elide engagement with material differences in the queer experience of the world, both socially and somatically. The queer body, narratively composed, becomes critically flattened in the process…Ultimately, we want to move beyond, perhaps even leave behind, the multicultural imperative to “include” queerness as another “difference” in the composition curriculum (as well as in the profession) and explore instead how queerness in its excessive modes—the ways queerness can exceed normalizing categories of identity, even lesbian and gay identity—poses a unique and significant challenge to literacy” (p. 431-432).

“We argue that this flattening effect arises out of the unexamined assumption that “understanding” and then “tolerance” or even “respect” are predicated on “identity.” By identity, we mean not just the acknowledgment that other identities exist, but that those identities are, in essence, somehow identical to (or identifiable with) your own” (p. 438).

“A simple way to begin might be by having students not write about what they believe they “know” about one another, but what they suspect they do not know” (p. 445).

“Writing classrooms that encourage irresolution in the face of difficult texts, that celebrate the ongoing questioning that should be at the heart of critical pedagogy—such classrooms challenge what Anzaldúa calls the ‘killing’ ignorance of dominant white culture” (p. 448-449).


How can troubling the flattening effects create embodied realities for writers? Is there a way to develop through this a lens by which writers come up against not only the limitations of their systems of knowing but the consequences of their experience of it?

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