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?

got me an idee-er

Partially in response to reading Johnson-Eilola’s Datacloud for JP’s seminar (followed this week by Rice’s Rhetoric of Cool), and partially in response to leafing through a book whose title and author escape me at the moment (for a project in RM’s seminar), I’ve been toying with the idea for a piece called “New Media Composition in the Corporate University: An Historical and Polemical Essay.”  The central question of said piece is to bring together threads of thought about the contemporary, post-Fordist corporations and modes of work with ideas about the appropriate forms of New Media work in the comp classroom.  I’m sure someone’s beat me to it, though–the idea’s just been stirring in my head for the last day or so.  The title, as some of you will doubtlessly recognize, alludes to Crowley’s Composition in the University.

I’m open, as always, for possible sources for such a project is anyone’s got any.

jumping the gun

I’ve started the reading for JP’s fall seminar.  I read this passage from The Digital Dialectic (ed. Peter Lunenfeld):

We still will publish in book form that which we deem to have lasting significance.  Nothing ages faster and becomes inaccessible quicker than electronic media.  The silver oxide is falling off the tapes that constitute our archive of the pioneering era of video art.  Good luck trying to find a system that can access computer files that are a mere decade old (especially if they were composed on now-abandoned operating systems).  And bit rot (a lovely, though all too appropriate, coinage to deal with the digital’s always already dated qualities) is almost immediate on the World Wide Web, with sites popping up and falling away like flowers in the desert. (xx)

This might be an interesting starting point: something about digitality, decay, temporality–esp. in contrast to the idea that the digital is all about convergence and coming together.  Here, it is as much marked by falling apart.  This is of particular interest when considered against the futurist tropes of uploading consciousness into digital memory devices and the like–an exchange of one mortality for another (though that is not the central interest for me here).

Tentative (way too early title): “ASCII to ASCII, DOS to DOS: Decay, the Digital, and Temporality.”

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.

starting point

The other day I had a tiny idea, but one I want to at least record here in case I do something with it later. Consider this a starting point, a tentative foray, a thought out loud.

Here’s Aristotle:

It is clear, then, that rhetoric is not bound up with a single definite class of subjects, but is as universal as dialectic; it is clear, also, that it is useful. It is clear, further, that its function is not simply to succeed in persuading, but rather to discover the means of coming as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case allow. In this it resembles all other arts. For example, it is not the function of medicine simply to make a man quite healthy, but to put him as far as may be on the road to health; it is possible to give excellent treatment even to those who can never enjoy sound health. Furthermore, it is plain that it is the function of one and the same art to discern the real and the apparent means of persuasion, just as it is the function of dialectic to discern the real and the apparent syllogism. What makes a man a ‘sophist’ is not his faculty, but his moral purpose. In rhetoric, however, the term ‘rhetorician’ may describe either the speaker’s knowledge of the art, or his moral purpose.

Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This is not a function of any other art. Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter; for instance, medicine about what is healthy and unhealthy, geometry about the properties of magnitudes, arithmetic about numbers, and the same is true of the other arts and sciences. But rhetoric we look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us; and that is why we say that, in its technical character, it is not concerned with any special or definite class of subjects.

Here’s Malcolm X:

One of the first things that the independent African nations did was to form an organization called the Organization of African Unity. […] The purpose of our […] Organization of Afro-American Unity, which has the same aim and objective to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary. That’s our motto. […]

I’m interested here in the two uses of “means.”  Not that the word is used significantly differently (though surely Aristotle and Malcolm are talking about different means) but I’m interested instead in the similarity of the phrases used: “in any given case the available means” and “by any means necessary”.  What would happen–as a thought experiment–to remix the two?

Aristotle remixed:

Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing persuasion by any means necessary.

Malcolm remixed:

. . . bring about the freedom of these people by observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. That’s our motto . . . .

I’m not sure what the effect is.  In part, I find, it is difficult to separate my own association of “any means necessary” with the agenda of militant Black nationalism; likewise, my association of Aristotle’s definition with the promise of rational deliberation makes it hard to assess what the Malcolm Remix might be saying.  If anything, Malcolm here seems kind of toothless, while Aristotle–while suggesting a much broader rhetoric than he usually does–picks up an alien air of threat, of possible violence.  Of course, these evaluations are colored by my understanding of the two remixed phrases.

Painting by Danny Roberts

I’d be interested in any thoughts.  Maybe this isn’t as promising a move as I’d thought . . . hmm.

just my imagination . . . running away with me

Two more entries into the “Imaginary Project” Category:

  1. Read all of the Semiotext(e) catalaog.  I’m not sure it would generate a particular project beyond that, but it would make for interesting reading at least.
  2. Choose a favorite research text–say, for example, a recent read like Richard Miller’s Writing at the End of the World.  Read all of the sources listed in the author’s Works Cited or References list.  Write the book that comes out of that reading.  I assume it wouldn’t be the same book, and it would perhaps be hard to write without making overt references to the original.  But it would, I think, be an interesting experiment into the relationship between text and subject.

the professor from porlock

An aborted attempt to write my Doyle response as an homage to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”  No, I don’t know why.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was taking too long.

With humblest apologies to S. T. Coleridge

In Wetwares did Richard Doyle
A new subjectivity decree:
Where bodies freeze to not despoil
Enraptured by the mortal coil
Well into eternity.
The pleasures of the flesh persist
In the freezing cold cryonic tryst:
Subjects wait, suspended, neither now nor then;
Ignorant of time and its contingency;
Hoping to wake, alive, renewed again,
In Two Thousand Ninety-three.