oh, bother

A random assortments of thoughts.

Please welcome Clay (back) to the blogroll.  The new blog, Borrego, can be reached via the link in this post or the link in the blogroll column.

I never read the Winnie the Pooh books by Milne, but I had some Pooh videos (of the various Disney cartoons) when I was younger.  At times, I think that of all literary characters, Pooh is the one I most resemble:

Pooh

Pooh

The comparison is not flattering.

I was completing an online poll today, and I was asked whether I thought Obama’s inaugural address had too much rhetoric and too few specifics.  As John sings in “A Day in the Life,” “I just had to laugh.”  A dream project of mine would be to start a blog called “Mere Rhetoric” devoted to finding and cataloging the anti-rhetoric trope that continues to plague modern news reporting.  Thanks a lot, Ramus.

So a person I know does not want to be my friend anymore.  I hope it is temporary(despite the finality of her announcement) but I am terrified that it is not.

Here is what I have been billing as my (latest) “Way Too Early and Incredibly Vague Diss Idea:”

As you’ve noticed, one thing that I’ve been interested in in several ways is the
politics of composition, not just how comp does politics but how it works in
relationship to broader political phenomena and especially its relationship to
critical theory.  My diss idea begins in the sixties, since I think it is important to
emphasize that composition (in its modern form) has its roots, in essence, as a
political discipline in that a lot of the early expressivist folks of the sixties
(Macrorie, early Elbow, early Coles) saw comp pedagogy as a way to engage the
rhetorics of the student rights movements of the era.  Of course, the student
rights movement(s) are caught up in the larger concerns of the era, such as the
civil rights movement, women’s lib, and the antiwar movement.  My M.A. work
has already tried to sow this field a little by asking some questions about how
the field understood protest as a rhetorical form (to be fair, they didn’t) and how
they ignored other forms of rhetorical action at the time (the bed-ins).  As a starting point, we can look to
Joseph Harris (1997) who has written about some of this.

In the 70s and 80s, the field seem more concerned with professionalizing
itself and so we saw the emergence and widespread adoption of process
pedagogy.  At the same time, basic writing and the CCCC Statement on Students
Rights’ to their Own Language emerge in the early and mid-70s, and though
each development is political in its own way they are so in ways that don’t have
as obvious a connection to larger political trends as did expressivist pedagogy
in the decade before.  Faigley (1992) and Tobin (2005?) have written about
process and its relationship to the claims for comp’s disciplinarity in this period.

Into the 80s and 90s (the period here that I need to do more research on) comp
finds theory and sides are taken in the era’s culture wars.  I won’t say more here
because I need to read more, but the point I’m interested in investigating is the
culture wars and how the 80s and 90s emergence of neoliberalism was felt in the
university in general and comp in particular.

So, looking back over these three periods (60s, 70s/80s, 80s/90s), to the
extent that comp has taken up the politics of the larger culture/society, it has
done so largely in terms of politics relevant to the modernist democratic nation-
state: who has the right to speak, who has power, how can power be
redistributed in more democratic ways through discursive intervention.  What
comp hasn’t really accounted for then is how to react to changes in power in the
post-nation-state  global economy, or, we might say, under Empire.  (This is
especially true in terms of, say critical pedagogy, but this isn’t really my focus.)

So, a lot of this is background and now we come to the really comp part of my
idea.  To the extent that comp’s politics have traditionally been tied to political
forms native to the nation-state, so too have its ideas of political efficacy and
pedagogy.  What comp needs then is a new sense of political form , both in
terms of what is taught (does an essay make sense under Empire?  I don’t
know, but that’s kind of the point at this phase) and in how it is taught.

I realize this is a mad jumble at present, so here is a somewhat more
schematic breakdown of these things might get broken down by chapters:

1) 60s comp: emergence of rhetcomp as (in part) a political intervention into
the students’ rights movement

2) 70s/80s: professionalization of the field and (to some extent) a
depoliticization of its mission in the rise of Reagan republicanism and a focus
on standards and “back to basics” teaching (see Faigley on this, and I think
Crowley has addressed it as well).

3) 80s/90s/00s: theory, culture wars, neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism,
decline of the nation-state.  What is comp to do now?

4) What are the rhetorical forms appropriate for the nation-state?  For Empire?
How has comp historically and in contemporary ways understood the
relationship of rhetorical form to political struggle?

5) What are the pedagogical forms appropriate for the nation-state and for
Empire?  How has comp seen pedagogy as a political tool and has it changed
that conception as the form and structure of power has changed?  (A loaded
question – – I imply it has not adequately done so.)

There are caveats aplenty in there, but this rough sketch has found some love from a couple of faculty members who would be likely to be on my committee.

I have been reading Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It has something in common with comp scholars of 68/69/70 like Deemer and Lutz who wanted to (re)make the scene of teaching/learning as something capable of being other job training or rote memorization.  I image it has some overlap with critical pedagogical tactics, but it does so with less emphasis on promoting a specific politics (that is, it is less about being anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist, than it is about reforming teaching–but in ways that sound familiar from the little critical pedagogy I’ve read).  Their key intervention is to read the classroom space as McLuhan might, as a medium, and to argue for a new idea about how teaching and learning should be conducted.  Good stuff, and I am looking forward to reading their later book, The Soft Revolution, as well.  What I find promising about that book (from what I’ve skimmed fo far) is that it puts much of the responsibility for educational reform on the students themselves.  In that sense, it is very 60s/early-70s, but it does so in a way that is not about coming to “critical consciousness” (or not just about it) but actually doing things about educational injustices and whatnot.

Pooh Bear.  Really?

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i am a racist technocrat

This week’s post from Pruchnic’s seminar, in response to Adam Banks, Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground.

I Am a Racist Technocrat

Or,

Will the Real Slim Shady Please Sit Down?

I am not the person to respond to this book because I have little investment in identity politics—and what investment I do have makes me seem like a reactionary, anti-diversity rube who thinks that certain folk are gettin’ uppity when they start talkin’ ‘bout how they ain’t got access. And really, that’s not me. My qualms about identity politics stem from the fact that I want to argue for the constructedness of whiteness as unmarked but the rules of the game are against me. Yes, I understand that categories like African American, woman, subaltern, homosexual are constructed as Other from the perspective of an assumed heteronormative, unmarked white rational masculine subject position. But my interest is not in defending the HUWRMSP as somehow “victimized” by the discourses of legitimation for other subject positions so much as is it rests in arguing that we should recognize the constructedness of all subject positions—but the last time I suggested such a thing in a seminar I was roundly derided.

I start with this preface only because I’m thinking through some issues in relation to Banks’s work that are inevitably shaded by my antipathy toward identity politics. I want to emphasize my interest in the constructedness of all subject positions because I am troubled by Banks’s use of what might be read as an essentialized Black subjectivity in his chapter on the website BlackPlanet and African American discourse tropes. Banks argues in favor of Smitherman’s earlier claim that Black English is intimately tied to a unique “Black” experience; Banks, via Smitherman, maintains that “Black English, as expressed through its oral traditions, represents distinctively African American worldviews” (70). As Banks would have it, the Black worldview, expressed in both oral and literate Black English, can be understood as a scene of resistance and political liberation struggle:

The continued focus of many on the oral in Black English, then, is not a resignation that written English is somehow the exclusive domain of Whites . . . but a matter of remaining true to the roots of the language, no matter what forms it might take now. Maintaining that focus is also an act of self-determination, of resistance, of keeping oppositional identities and worldviews alive, refusing to allow melting pot ideologies to continue to demand that Black people assimilate to the White notions of language and identity as the cost for access to economic goods or a public voice in American society. (70)

This passage is worth citing at length because we here see what I am suggesting is problematic. Yes, Banks does write of Black identities, but not in the sense of a variegated multiplicity of Black subjectivities; rather, the “Black Experience,” it would seem here, is yoked to “authentically” Black literate and oral practices as the site of resistance to (monolithic) White notions of discourse and the subject. Later in the chapter, Banks gives in a little bit, admitting that “the names [of BlackPlanet members] reveal complexity and diversity in notions of exactly what constitutes a Black idenity”; Banks, though, still insists that there is such a thing as a discretely identifiable Black subject, for “all of the users [of BlackPlanet] . . . participate in and claim a Black identity for themselves” (75). I’m left wondering which argument Banks wants us to believe: that the Black subject is a space of contested, negotiated meaning, or that there is something we can call “Black identity” in a non-problematic, non-essentialized way?

And now, a left turn. I know I’m kind off the technology trope here, but really the technological argument Banks is making seems fairly innocent. We need to redefine the Digital Divide; see “access” as a rhetorical problem that can be understood across multiple levels; and read the Civil Rights struggle as a technological, rather than a “merely” legal one? Okay. I’m on board. Back to my left turn.

What makes Banks’s claims about Black English and Black identity so challenging is that it seems to tie racial identity to discursive production, in either the oral or literate genres. It is not difficult to consider two test cases (incongruous though they may be) for the claims Banks is making here. The first is the 313’s own Marshall “Eminem/Slim Shady” Mathers. In his track “The Way I Am,” Em taunts his white critics who accuse him of appropriating a traditionally Black art form: “And I just do not got the patience / to deal with these cocky Caucasians who think / I’m some wigger who just tries to be black cause I talk with an accent . . . .”. Here, Em makes, in a roundabout way, an argument similar to the Banks/Smitherman postulate: what his critics deride is a (perceived) wish to be Black, to be other, but Em refutes that haterade because, he argues, he naturally talks with an “accent”—which here, we might conjecture, means that Em—child of South Warren, friend and student of the Black population across the 8 Mile border—is a native user of Black discursive traditions and therefore, is not a “white nigger” but has some claim to Black experience by virtue of his participation in Black discourse genres. And while I am not Black, I can imagine taking some umbrage at such an argument (even while being dazzled by Em’s flow and mastery of the rap genre); that is, does participation in, and mastery of, the discursive production equate to Black identity?

Alternatively, Barack Obama offers the other test case. While such questions have since grown silent (or at least much quieter), Obama’s candidacy was plagued in its early days by the question of whether he was “Black enough.” Take, for example, the opening to a story from Time magazine from 1 February 2007:

But this is a double-edged sword. As much as his biracial identity has helped Obama build a sizable following in middle America, it’s also opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man. In calling Obama the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” the implication was that the black people who are regularly seen by whites — or at least those who aspire to the highest office in the land — are none of these things.

The “not Black enough” trope takes two forms: first, the argument that Obama isn’t “Black enough” is due to his immigrant heritage: not the child of slaves, but the child of an immigrant student and a white (native) mother. He is African comma American, but not African hyphen American. The other version of the trope, expressed here in its most odious form by conservative hack pundit Warner Todd Huston, is that what makes Obama insufficiently Black is his relationship to “the low trending culture developed by the native born:”

Obama isn’t “black enough” not because he might have an immigrant background but because he is educated, eloquent, smooth, and associates with whites. He eschews the thug, rapper lifestyle, the discounting of education and the general downgrading of achievement that is currently accepted by popular black culture in America today.

So, Blacks do not distrust Obama because he is an immigrant and therefore not “black enough”. They distrust him because he is able and successful, smart and educated so that is what makes him not “black enough”.

While I am not qualified to rule on Obama’s “Blackness quotient,” I can still say that I find both versions of the trope distressing from a critical point of view. Here, we have the corollary of the Banks argument; what makes Obama “not Black enough” is his background, and, in particular, his acceptance of “mainstream” or “standard” White discursive forms. While the Huston quote goes some distance to validate Banks’s argument that African Americans are often written off as being uneducable or irredeemably illiterate, Huston’s argument—distasteful as it may be—posits, like Banks, an essentialized Black identity.

The argument I am trying to make here—to the extent that I am making one and not just thinking through some issues—is that any essentialized Black identity becomes problematic. It is either a derogatory assessment of “us people,” or a blanket acceptance of “us folks.”

soapbox

Without being fully invested in the project of critical pedagogy, some parts of it that we learned about it Ruth Ray’s “Teaching of Writing” seminar in the winter intrigued me, especially the focus on the classroom as a place of cooperative knowledge work, a place in which the hierarchies of student and teach can be challenged by using the classroom as a space in which students and teacher can do valuable intellectual work together.

All this by prelude to noting that I’m trying to incorporate some of those strategies (divested of their explicit ideological indoctrination schemes that still make critical pedagogy kind of unsettling for me) in my classes this summer.  And that as prelude to noting that I’ve committed to writing this semester’s assignments along with students–a process that is far more challenging than I’d anticipated, but has been productive in many ways–that may be the subject for a later post.

The syllabus is the long-in-coming “dictionaries” syllbus, now rechristened the iCyclopedia (similar to Rice’s “Handbook of Cool” assignments).  Anyway, in doing some research for this assignment, I came across a site that I really dig.  It’s an index of Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, archived on a blog, running from the early bulletins in 1965 and then petering out sometime in 1975.  (The site hasn’t been updated in more than a year, so I can’t say whether there are plans for further additions).

There are a couple here I’d like to share.

November 1968

December 1968

The November 1968 bulletin was what drew me into the archive.  I was looking for information on when Stan Lee’s first use of his now-famous (and trademarked) sign-off “Excelsior!” occurred–and, as best as I can tell, it was the on the page shown above, Nov. 1968.  So the page fulfilled a certain pragmatic research value: it provided the information I wanted.

But it was more than just the information that I found appealing.  For at least the last few years or maybe a decade, or at least the last time I bought single issue comics about six or seven years ago, comic books haven’t printed letters pages or bulletins or soapboxes or anything of the sort.  I imagine that a lot of the functions of such pages have moved to the web–checklists, coming soons, fan club info (are there still “official” fan clubs anymore?)–in ways that are probably a lot more efficient than anything offered in the old bulletins.

Still, there’s a lot reasons to love these pages, to be nostalgic for them (even if, as a child of the 80s, I’m nostalgic for something that I wasn’t a part of–which is itself an interesting phenomenon).  I have a fondness for these pages in the way they both share the fan’s love of the material at the same time it couches them in affectionately silly language:

  • 11/68, Spectacular Spider-Man promo: “Don’t just sit there, citizen!” (Sir, no, sir!)
  • 11/68, Marvel Superheroes promo: “And oh, that artwork!” (Stan’s promo is nearly orgasmic here.)
  • 11/68, Fantastic Four Special promo: ” . . . Sue finally gives birth to –WOW!” (To what, a planet eater?  An Atlantean?  An ultimate nullifier?  An orange-rock-skinned love child?)
  • 12/69, Dr. Stange promo: “Hooo-boy!” (Yippie-ki-yay!)
  • 12/69, Sub-Mariner promo: “With a climax that’ll rock ya!” (For those about to be rocked, I salute you.)

The pages here are ecstatic, almost literally: they promise a reading experience that will rock you with orgasmic climaxes (11/68: “one of our most startling climaxes!”).  Rarely have so many exclamation points been used on one page!!!!

These pages know their audience: they match a fan’s breathless anticipation with their own breathless excitement: Look what we’ve got in store for you!  You’ll never believe it!  We’ll rock ya!  You’ll never see it coming! All the more fascinating when you figure that Lee, Kirby, et al. had probably 25-30 years on the kids and teens reading the comics at this time.  So there’s a certain performance here, too: the middle-aged (or nearing middle age) creators become overwhelmed adolescents on the page.

I think I might try to do something with this archive.  As the “Soapboxes” above indicate, Stan the Man (another persona) used the pages in part to editorialize, to rap, to drop truth on the kids.  So, that’s weird: what is Lee’s commentary about “What is a bigot?” doing in the same pages as the death of Gwen Stacy?  A juxtaposition.  Then, too, we can juxtapose the Soapboxes with other moments of 1968: the Situationists and their detournement/reappropriation of American comics for Marxist propaganda purposes.  R. Crumb’s Snatch #1 appears, as does Zap! Comics, as does his collection Head Comix, his “first exposure … in national bookstores”.  (This site notes that one of Crumb’s contemporaries, S. Clay Wilson, had his work published in a book called Yellow Dog–a fact that might be of interest to at least one reader.)  Alcoholics anonymous and Al-Anon publish a line of AA-approved comic strips starting in 1968.  So: comics/comix underground, mainstream, politicized; a revolution? a movement? a moment?

For anyone interested, a link to my own iCylopedia work.

for my peeps

For fellow readers in Dr. Ray’s Teaching of Writing Course: the final word on critical pedagogy, courtesy of the blog Stuff White People Like. Find the links here and here.

Obviously submitted tongue very much in cheek.