on the brink

Mild Sauce, my intermittently updated online limited-character-set comic strip blog, has been updated once again.  For your reading (dis)pleasure, please find and use the link to your right to see the newest addition.

candidate visits

I can’t be bothered to invent a clever post title tonight.  Oh well.

Some thoughts on our first candidate visit.  Well, more about the process than the candidate, because it wouldn’t really be apropos to say anything about the candidate (who will remain anonymous here), especially since at least one of the other candidates coming through has been known to peek at scribblings here.  In that case, the process and the itinerary comments might be revealing, but since I don’t think I’m writing anything that gives anyone an advantage (or disadvantage) I should be okay.

Here is roughly what the itinerary was like for Candidate I; our other two candidates will have similar (but not identical) itineraries:

9:00 am: Composition Selection Committee interview

The candidate has an interview with the CSC, meaning select members of the rhet-comp faculty and myself, the grad representative on the committee.  I was interested to hear the kinds of questions and reponses in this interview.  I already knew that the academic job interview wasn’t exactly the same as a private-sector interview, but this was my first chance to see one in action.  It was much more of a conversation than private-sector interviews are (at least in my experience) and I found myself noting not just what kinds of questions were being asked but also what stategies the candidate used to respond.  Here is where I learned the most, I think, for in listening to Candidate I’s answers I found myself finding places where I might respond differently, given my different research and pedagogical interests.  I won’t reveal here particular questions (although from the question-drafting meeting early in the week I think maybe they are not questions unprecedented in the history of academia) but I will observe that, although my answers would probably be a bit rougher than our Candidate’s, I think I could probably at least hold my own with the majority of the questions being raised.

10:30 am: Meeting with dean of CLAS

I wasn’t privy to the meeting with Dean Thomas, so I sat in the lobby area and read some magazines.  Anyone know why Wayne State’s CLAS offices have such a large backlog of the Stanford alumni magazine?

11:15 am: Campus tour with yours truly

The meeting with the dean ran long, so my half-hour tour was crammed in to 15 minutes.  I gave Candidate I a quick tour of State Hall, the Gullen Mall area, and back to Barnes & Noble at Candidate’s request so that coffee could be purchased from Starbucks.  Sadly, the line was rather long and we were by that point running late for the meeting with the Interim Dept Chair.

11:30 am: Meeting with dept chair

Also not privy.  I think I slammed a Pepsi during this break and then started roaming the halls to rustle up wayward grads for the . . .

12:00 pm: Lunch with grad students

A nice little deli spread (I was glad we were spared the dreaded mini-quiches).  We had a decent number of grads show up for the lunch, I think maybe a dozen or so.  I was pleased that this included at least a solid number of those of who I think of as the “core” body of rhet-comp students (myself, of course, Clay, Cara, Jared, Mary) and several lit or film/media studies folks.  the Candidate was quite kind and asked each of us about our current research and we also had a discussion about the differences between the Candidate’s grad program and our own.  Ken Jackson stopped by toward the end of it and regaled us with stories of his pre-academic life working in a hospital.  After lunch, I walked with Candidate to the B&N where the line proved more feasible this time.  We got back to the dept  with a small amount of time for the dept-level interview.

1:30 pm: Appointments Committee interview

By far, seeing (and participating in) the two interviews has been the most revealing part of my involvement so far.  (Well, the initial selection process, in which we read through various applicants CVs and writing samples and other docs, is a close second, since it offered some practical exposure to the genre of the job letter and I got to see some various teaching portfolios and things.)  Here, much of what I wrote about the earlier interview remains true, but I will also note that I particularly enjoyed hearing questions about the rhet-comp field  from those faculty members whose work is outside the field.  Something to remember for my own eventual interviews, then, is to practice answering questions from such scholars in a way that explains not just my answers and the context of those answers in the field but also how those answers might be of interest to broader concerns to scholars outside the field as well.  In this, I might find I have a tiny advantage over candidates whose grad work has been in writing and rhetoric depts over more traditional English depts as I encounter more work outside of rhet-comp than other candidates might (for this I also have to thank JR, especially, for insisting on the relevance of Derrida and Barthes among others to rhetoricians).  I am also thankful for the members of the Appointments Committee who (in the little time we chatted before the interview started) made plain to me (at least I thought they did) that my presence was not a mere sop to Dept bylaws but that I was a valued participant in the day’s precedings.  The interview ran an hour, which left the Candidate roughly a half hour to prepare for . . .

3:00 pm: Job talk

If I were not serving on the committee and thus had no role in deciding which candidate would be offered a post, I would say more here about the actual talk itself.  As it is, I am hyper-aware of my responsibilities to the committee and to the department so I don’t want to bias the process in any way–I am very greatful to be asked to serve in this role by Dr. Barton and Dr. Jackson, and I don’t want them to have any reason to think their trust in me was misplaced.  So I won’t say anything about the talk, other than that it was better attended than I thought a rhetcomp talk was going to be, and I was pleased to see so many of colleagues (meaning both grads and faculty) in attendance.  But dang does the 10th floor conference room get hot when it is crowded.  After the talk, a small reception followed in the faculty lounge–I’d spent much of the day with the Candidate already so I didn’t say much to the Candidate as other members of the department used the opportunity to get to know a possible future colleague.

In all, a considerably busy day – – something Candidate and I talked about a little during our campus tour.  Candidate said that although the process was the source of some anxiety, it was also an exciting experience to meet people outside of the candidate’s program and to see what colleagues in other institutions were working on.  I endorse that sentiment heartily and look forward to meeting with Candidates II and III.

the new me

It is official (at long bloody last):

Michael L. McGinnis, Master of Arts

Of course, now I need all new stationery.  Sigh.

Thanks again to everyone whose encouragement, help, advice, and guidance got me this far.

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.

call to arms

From Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2002.

Elbow reminds us of the relative duration of academic-life to real-life. Just because the rest of the curriculum has banned enchantment in favor of a narrow conception of life-as-careerism that doesn’t mean we have to go along, does it? Can’t we be a last outpost? a way station for poetry, ecophilia, spiritual intensity, basic human (not disciplined) style? (28 )

I’ve been reviewing some notes for Dr. Ray’s final exam essay, trying to decide which option to pursue. Shall I write a statement of teaching philosophy? Shall I return to an argument from our discussion board and parse it out further? Don’t know yet. But I was reminded how much I like Sirc’s little calls to arms scattered through Happening, even if at times I think the polemic gets in the way of his argument–or, rather, it crops up at odd moments and creates a disjunction in the text. Although, I actually sort of like that too–it’s as though he’s latched on to an idea or image or scene that excites him so much that the thread of his argument falls out of sight for a moment, and he’s just compelled to proclaim something like the above, in spite of the body of work (like, say, Smit’s The End of Composition Studies) that insists on a utilitarian purposefulness for rhetoric and composition.

It’s not, then, that Sirc doesn’t see composition as owning utility, but rather a different kind of utility: a utility of affect, pleasure, mystification. Disjunction. It is, then, not the utility of disciplinarity, not an institutionalized utility. I note this thinking of my own writing, here and elsewhere–the M.A., the exam, eventually the dissertation, articles I don’t even know yet that I’ll be writing. I am compelled by the work of Sirc and Rice and others who have argued for a writing like this, a writing that (at the very least) reorganizes what it mans to write disciplinarily. Consider Rice:

In composition studies, rhetorical practice is often defined as acknowledgment of audience, purpose, and, even as many in the profession dispute its influence, ability to engage with one of the so-called modes: compare and contrast, definition, classification, narrative, or argument. None of these points prevents writing from being taught in constructive ways. These points’ dominant position within our pedagogical apparatus, however, is a topos of instruction in need of updating. We can no longer assume that the modes (or any variation of the modes) are appropriate for the sake of being appropriate. Chora, in particular, challenges each point’s relevance to digital writing because its focus shifts to a hyper-rhetorical method that displaces much of the fixity we currently associate with print culture. (Rhetoric of Cool 34)

While I understand that my writing is still developing (whose isn’t?), I look at the work of folks like Rice and Sirc and I’m driven mad with shame. Their work looks effortless, in some ways, even though I know that seeing only the end product of something mystifies its origins (the logic of the commodity concealing labor). This is particularly angst-ridden for me because I typically do find writing easy–or, at least, not difficult. But writing my M.A. essay this semester–my much delayed and fussed over M.A. essay–has presented a challenge that, frankly, I hadn’t anticipated. On one hand, I’m frustrated by my haphazard writing of this project; on the other, I think it’s great to go through it because I’m learning the writing process all over again, in some ways. I’m trying to appropriate something from Rice and Sirc that I find appealing, a method, a tool, a construct, and I’m not yet sure I’m deploying it as effectively as they have.

Turning back to the Rice and Sirc passages above, what I aspire to do is produce the choragraphic, spiritually intense writing that drew me into composition and rhetoric in the first place, but I keep struggling against what feels to me like a limit of imagination. Look, there’s Rice, finding rhetorical moments in P-Funk albums! Over there, Sirc’s dropping science with Situationist psychogeography. And Ulmer–Ulmer! Like a mad scientist, tossing together poststructuralists like Barthes and Derrida with the flotsam and jetsam of different discourses–hey, how did Einstein invent? throw it in!– with Hank Williams, Sr. tracks blaring as he coasts the wild silver ride of choragrapy to a transcendant wabi-sabi mood. I haven’t found my way into that space yet. The Lennon project might be a start, but I want to not just use the choragraphic method as others have before me, but I want to find the space where I can be–like Rice and Ulmer and Sirc–an Inventor, searching for, experimenting with, mixing together forms and genres and Situations to create new ways of writing. But I haven’t yet.

Don’t misunderstand me, dear reader. This isn’t one of my pity-me posts. I’m trying to articulate an ambition, a desire yet unfulfilled. Sirc, Rice, Ulmer . . . they’re not idols. They’re . . . what? Inspirations? Guides? I sort of like, if you can excuse the cultural appropriation, the image of them as spirit guides in the Native American tradition. Their work resonates with me; I identify with something they represent (even as they challenge the way writing is represented in the university); and there’s something of the way they do what they do that inspires the way I do what I do.

hulk smash!!

Hulk smash!

 

 

Hulk smash!

 Hulk smash puny human emotions!

Hulk no like self-doubt!

Grrr!

Hulk hate crippling self-doubt!

Hulk hate wasted optimism and fleeting happiness!

Hulk smash lonely teardrops!

Hulk smash overstated but essentially unwarranted self-pity and self-imposed melacholy!

Hulk hate!

Hulk no love!

Hate!

Hulk smash!

 

not at all an overtly political post

Some thoughts on the first month of the proposed standard syllabus, primarily as a way to avoid writing about Kenneth Burke’s Permanence & Change.

The first month has gone well, overall. This weekend saw me grading the first round of assignments, and I think they came out right where I would like to see them: very few As, several Bs, several Cs, a handful of Ds, and a very small number returned without grades on the stipulation of revisions. It’s a little odd, teaching to an assignment that I didn’t write myself; I think (having done it this way now) I sort of prefer having a bit more say in the matter (which is not to say that I can’t tweak the assignment in future sections if I choose). One other thing I’ve learned from this is what points I need to stress more in future for students to understand the assignment, so I’ve learned something from it as well. Grading remains stressful, rewarding, daunting, and fraught with personal and ideological anxieties. Committed, as I am in theory and in theory to non-thesis driven compositions, I often find myself advising via comments: “You need to have a more assertive thesis here” or “Your essay needs a thesis that addresses both x and y” or some variation thereof. It’s sort of disorienting: while I don’t feel as though I have to justify my decision to experiment with argumentative rhetorics to those scholars whom I think of as being mentors in the field, there’s a twinge of guilt whenever I write that word thesis. I understand (at least in part) the theory behind non-thesis driven pedagogies, and it was the excitement and challenge of those models (here a problematic word) that drew me into rhetcomp.

As a brief sidebar before returning to the main thread. Rice has counseled that one problem with thesis driven comp strategies is that it is the pedagogy of the assembly line, of Fordist economies (and, we might add, ecologies and epistemologies. Hey, there’s a book title for you: Economies, Ecologies, and Epistemologies: Toward a Pedagogy of Post-Fordist Affect). But as I reflected on grading earlier today, one thing I thought about was the role of evaluation in comp pedagogy. Plainly, (at Wayne at least) there’s no way to get around the final course grades and some measure of evaluative practice. Within one’s own syllabi, one could experiment with a workshop approach where assignments aren’t graded, as such, but refined and honed through writing, revision, research, rewriting, more revisions, etc.–that is, to make classroom practice a closer analogue to what “real writers” do. (And there’s another thing to interrogate, the pretense of the student writer–real writer binary.) I briefly had an idyllic vision earlier today where we couldn’t give grades but would offer commentary on students’ technique and progress. (Oh, brave folly!) I think it might be worth asking about evaluation esp. in light of Rice’s suggestion. Berlin (I think–can’t find my notes) posits that much of the university institution is set up to produce an ongoing stream of middle management candidates to regulate capital in Fordist economies. (Or something–that’s an admittedly reductive gloss.) And evaluation, I think, plays a significant role in that–one that maybe gets overlooked in both theory and praxis (I’m thinking of our recent orientation workshop that featured a presentation on “How to Grade” but not on “Why to Grade”). If middle management (and the economies/ecologies/epistemologies it is synechdochic of) is about regulation and control (reading Foucault lately) then evaluation is a very potent ideological tool: I approve of your work–you get to progress! Your work does not meet standards–you do not progress! (And there’s where the critique of standards as being a relic of the industrial age begins, perhaps.) It would be easy to lump in an advocacy of a non-evaluative pedagogy with an expressivist theory of writing, but I think that’s a too-simple dismissal. What I’m trying to ask here (not very eloquently, true) is why we bother issuing grades–or, at the very least, why we issue grades the way we do, with little heed paid, it seems, to our theories of epistemology and writing (if that is not, in some post-Derridean metafashion, a redundant phrase). Can we conceive a comp pedagogy with no grades attached? There will always be institutional demands, yes–so how could a non-evaluative pedagogy work within the university?

I imagine a course that asks students to write from the start of the semester, and the instructor providing comments and questions on the student’s work–just as we do now. But rather than then moving toward revision as the next step in refining a product (more industrial thought) and on to the next, disconnected assignment (as many pedagogies do–my own at present too) the next assignment would be the student’s responses to the instructor’s comments, so that the writing becomes process, not simply production. And so on throughout the semester, with no thought paid to thesis or modes or stases, just a continual exchange of questions and responses (not answers–I don’t want to think of this as being the closed circuit of question-and-answer formulae).

In short, we might say, a pedagogy of blogs.

And I think I have another damn idea for the diss: Becoming Process: Toward a Non-Evaluative Composition Pedagogy.

The students seem to be enjoying the readings, though is quite a bit of reading (I don’t mind confessing to being a little overwhelmed at points myself). I’m also quite pleased with how well they’ve done using the wiki for weekly writing responses and for doing peer review and submitting assignments electronically. There’s a lesson in this: in the past, I’ve only done the wiki later in the semester (for the discourse assignments) but introducing the wiki early and having them use it throughout the semester seems to make acclimating to the wiki easier for them. Good to know.

1020 Wiki ScreenCap

To the extent that I like the thesis/argument setup of this syllabus, this one seems pretty solid in that once could still use it at the very least for a series of interesting readings, swapping out the ones linked here already with readings of one’s own choosing. I can console myself to in that the final assignment is a non-thesis driven–but rather inquiry/research driven–online project. I’d like to maybe tinker with this model a bit so that the various stases addressed through the semester become more integral to the final project–to show that they can and most often do overlap, coincide, and coexist.

This has been a much longer post than planned. Stupid sidebar.