A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wha Happened?

Um, ok. I know when people get very busy they can also get distracted and miss details. But c'mon. Somehow, I either didn't alphabetize new entries to my blogroll, or I alphabetized them according to a system I can no longer remember or decipher. Now that's distracted.

It's fixed. For now.

[Update: I've now added more links. But I'm still feeling detail-challenged. If you notice a link that doesn't work or goes to the wrong site (lots of copy/pasting going on in my template) or even a link that disappeared (don't think that happened but want to acknowledge that it may have), then let me know and I'll take care of it.]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Little Writer

I need to develop a coherent philosophy of snark.

In the comments section of a recent post, I sort of made fun of expressivists by exhorting a friend from grad school to sing, "Kumbaya, Elbow, Kumbaya." I meant it to be ironic and self-depricating; I mean, who am I--and what have I contributed to composition--to be so flippant about one of our field's most important figures or the pedagogy that he has come to symbolize? But, on rereading, I fear that the comment is much more likely to be received as arrogant and self-satisfied. Ick.

Which is why I'm a little hesitant to register my complaint about this short piece in the latest New Yorker. After all, maybe I'm misreading it in the same way my comment could be misread. But I'm going to go ahead, trusting that anybody with a different interpretation will share it with me.

In "The Talk of the Town" section Jeffrey Goldberg reports that, on the heels of the Colbert disaster last year (what a beautiful thing it was to watch), the White House Correspondents' Association has chosen Rich Little to entertain this year's guests. Yet Goldberg's detached, reporterly perspective is really an ironic vehicle for portraying Little as a washed-up, pathetic old comic. While he might ultimately have his sights set on skewering the press for its continuing meekness in the face of the White House and hence for hiring someone they perceive as innocuous, his choice to run the skewer through Little seems to me unneccesarily cruel. Goldberg tells us, for example, that, "[w]hen asked to name a young comedian he admired, (Little) responded, 'Robin Williams. He’s just off the wall.'" Goldberg goes on to note that Little's "web site features a hundred and sixty-three impersonations including those of eight cartoon characters, three Muppets, and a hundred and fifteen people who are dead. These include Red Skelton, Broderick Crawford, Telly Savalas, and Maurice Chevalier."

It's not as if I'm against snark. If I were, I would have a coherent philosophy of it. I would be anti-snark. But there were times when I couldn't get enough of Le Blogue Bérubé (R.I.P.) knifing into Horowitz with surgeon-like control and precision, expertly retracting the thin layer of feigned sensibility (with a little "victim" thrown in) to reveal a rhetoric so corrupt and putrified that it almost literally stunk. But there are times when it just seems uncalled for, and this is, I think, one of those times. Horowitz, raving madman and weasel extraordinaire, is actively--and I might add successfully--spreading an insidious brand of lunacy across the U.S. Little tells jokes and does impersonations. That's not to say that humor can't have political teeth (see Colbert reference above). But, as far as I can tell, the closest Rich Little comes to political activism is the Ronald Reagan tribute on his website. He's hardly a menace, even to people like me who think Reagan was very, very bad for our country and the world.

If Little really is as old, pathetic, and washed-up as Goldberg apparently wants us to believe, then to target him for snark is to simply kick a guy because you can.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Big Ups, Doc

For those of you who may not know, I'm still in my first year at Bowling Green, and when I got here I was assigned the office space just vacated by Andrew Mara when he and Sport made the big move to NDSU. When they moved, though, Andrew kindly left a very nice white board hanging in the office (complete with cleaning agent!), which I have until now used mainly to illustrate grammatical concepts to confused students from my "teaching grammar in context" language arts class.

That just changed. Tonight, there was something about the large scale and the vertical on-the-wallness of that board that helped me finally work through a sticking point in my current research. I've scribbled. I've outlined. I've used MS Word in just about every conceivable way, from freewriting to making bulleted lists to slogging page by page through my argument. But it was the big white board next to my desk that finally helped me see the writing on the wall.

Thanks, Andrew.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Experience and Disciplinary Donnybrooks

I've been thinking a lot lately about experience as a nexus of debate and inquiry in rhetoric and composition: who tends to write about experience, from it, or both? How do they tend to define experience? Who tends not to write about it, and--if it's possible to surmise an answer short of launching a situated qualitative study, which I won't be doing in the extremely near future--why not?

What I'm finding is that it's nearly impossible in rhet/comp to talk about experience without immediately, even automatically, equating it to personal experience. Is there any other kind?, you may be asking yourself. Well, in one sense, obviously, no: all experience is personal to the extent that it presupposes a subject doing the experiencing. But it seems to me that the yoking of the terms personal and experience in composition carries with it more epistemological baggage than would seem to be suggested by the simple and relatively uncontroversial observation that all experience is subjective.

To wit: writing from and/or about experience in rhet/comp tends to be oriented around either expressivist or liberatory-critical theories of teaching, researching, and composing, or sometimes a hybrid of the two. In the case of expressivism, experience is troped as a repository of potential insights--as a way to write (about) the events of one's life to help one make sense of the world and, perhaps, communicate that sense to others. In the case of liberatory-critical work, experience tends to be theorized from within an identity politics that sees it as an effect of, or at the very least in tension with, broadly social forces--class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and other categories we use to both read and make our worlds--as they intersect in unique ways in different individuals.

Naturally, I'm oversimplifying things a bit here. But what strikes me as important is that automatically coupling experience and the personal--even if your point is that even utterly unique personal experience can nevertheless be understood and rendered in social and political terms (a common and, I might add, convincing argument)--leaves out a realm of experience that was never truly personal, at least in a conventional sense, in the first place. I mean, generally, it's up to the individual author to explicate or reflect on her experience for us so we can appreciate whatever point about self or society she wants to make. But what of disciplinary and metadisciplinary arguments whose participants may have many experiences in common--experiences that are central to one's attitudes and intellectual commitments toward the subject in question?

For example, Marjorie Roemer, Lucille Schultz, and Russel Durst claim that new abolitionists basically characterize everything related to FYC in "evisceratingly negative" terms (see "Reframing the Great Debate," in CCC 50:3)--a claim that cannot be reasonably supported by reading published arguments against the universal FYC requirement. But how much of their sense that new abolitionists are the barbarians at the gate has come from conference sessions like the ones in '93 and '94, when the latest abolitionist debate was really building a head of steam? How much of it comes from comments made on Megabyte University or the WPA-L in the mid- and late-1990's? How much of it comes from encountering colleagues who were dismissive of "dumb" FYC students, naive FYC defenders, and evil WPAs?

These kinds of experiences seem to be off limits or, at least, are not made very visible, in rhet/comp scholarship. And, yet, I'd argue that they are precisely the kinds of experiences that can really be productive fonts of knowledge and vigorous academic debate: What really did happen at C's in San Diego in 1993? Is there really such a disconnect between the rational, relatively even-keeled published arguments for abolishing the universal FYC requirement and what encounters with my colleagues would seem to indicate is not only an intellectual but also a deeply emotional aversion to FYC?

You can't argue with an author when you read that as a child he used to run around the playground making up words for common objects or when another author recalls the details of a childhood conversation with her mother. And who would want to? But you can argue with somebody who writes that a specific new abolitionist acts as if pro-FYC folk are either simpletons or comp-bosses, even if that doesn't come through in the person's writing writing.

Imagine, then, what sorts of conversations, in print and otherwise, we might have if more of us did draw on experiences that are not uniquely ours but, rather, that belong, either in type or actual instance, to many others as well, and others who are stakeholders in the disciplinary conversations we participate in. To get there, though, would seem to call for rethinking experience in rhetoric and composition.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

You Did Not Just Say That!

I'm working on a project about the ethics of experience in composition research and scholarship, and in my reading I came across this little gem of a recollection by the author of a widely-used textbook on teaching writing:
Most college writing programs differ in numerous ways, but they have many goals in common. These goals were described by the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) . . . and published as an outcomes statement in 1999. At the time of this writing, the president of the WPA . . . was such an important person that she was far too busy to write a one-page permission letter allowing us to reproduce the outcomes statement here (usually deemed a simple matter of professional courtesy), so instead of reproducing the statement, I have summarized its key features . . . . (281)

Are you kidding me? The first time I read this passage, my immediate thought was, somebody at [publisher] lost their job over this one. To make matters worse, the author actually uses the president's name, which I chose to elide for this post. I know academic discourse can get contentious, but jeez.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In a Word: Dangeral Edition

Most who read this blog will probably already know that Michael Bérubé has decided to hang up his keyboard. His retirement will leave the lefty-academic blogosphere (and most of the rest of it as well) greatly diminished. It will be a long time before another blogger with Michael's combination of formiddable intelligence, boundless knowledge, sharp wit, and unsappable energy comes along.

So, in honor of his retirement from blogging, this week's "In a Word" will feature a term that Michael himself coined: dangeral. As in his official title, "Michael Bérubé, Department of Dangeral Studies."

A Trotskyite faction of cultural studies--and the new avant garde of the (ultra)liberal arts--dangeral studies is an area of scholarly inquiry indoctrination that wears its plans for leftist global domination on its elbow-patch-adorned sleeve.

До свидания, comrade Bérubé.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In a Word

I'm going to try to pay attention to interesting words I come across in my reading and feature one or two occasionally here. I haven't decided yet how regularly, but I might try to make it a once-a-week thing, like Bérubé's ABF Fridays or Spencer's Found Fridays.

The inaugural installation: lagniappe.

1. Chiefly Southern Louisiana and Southeast Texas. a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.
2. a gratuity or tip.
3. an unexpected or indirect benefit. (From this case a better resource than the OED).

"As long as the freshman-sophomore persistence rate goes up, [first-year composition] is a good investment, and the fact that the students get some real graduation credits for the experience is lagniappe."
--Bob Connors, characterizing administrators' attitudes toward FYC in a 1997 post to the WPA-L.