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:



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.”


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.

right now i’m

  • Compiling notes for my 7064 presentation.
  • Learning how to tie a noose.
  • Still pissed at one her.
  • Thinking of another her.
  • Imagining the following exchange and its possible outcomes:

Me: When you’re not smiling, when you’re just, you know, listening to someone or thinking or just staying quiet, your face looks very serious.  Somber maybe.  Even sad.  But when you smile . . . it’s like the sun breaking from behind a cloud, and your whole face just lights up and it’s beautiful.


  • Listening to (nearly) the complete works of Radiohead on iTunes.  I’m missing some EPs, I know.
  • Blogging.
  • Planning options for the M.A.
  • Reminding self to check with Dr. J or Kay to see if my e-mail earlier this week was received.
  • Itching to go watch some Lost.
  • Trying to remember what the allegedly humorous idea I had for a comic strip to follow up Mild Sauce earlier today was.
  • Figuring out how to balance the 7064 work, grading, and making progress on the M.A. project.
  • Realizing blogging does not really fit into above.
  • L’il Foucault.  That was the comic strip idea.
  • Considering likelihood that affection for Her 2 above is a) misguided, b) probably just brief infatuation, c) unrequited
  • Wishing that a), b), & c) had all been true of Her 1 above.
  • Wondering when pics of Finnegan Walker will find their way to Intarwebs.
  • Wishing July 18 would get here a damn sight sooner.
  • Stretching for other items for this list.
  • Mulling possibility of another glass of juice.
  • Realizing that, at times, Radiohead’s The Bends can get a little boring.
  • Weighing options for texts for Spring/Summer courses.
  • Ending list.

iCyclopedia project–volume one

A draft of what could be the first project in the “dictionaries” syllabus. Feedback welcome and requested.  I think this is a pretty solid project, but we’ll see how it plays when workshopped in Ruth Ray’s class tomorrow.  I think it’s a good project because I, at least, would want to do this project.  That is kind of promising, I think, and, if time allowed, I’d like to do this along with my students and build my own iCyclopedia.

We’ve been talking about how dictionaries offer a particular version of language use, one that is prone to being regulated, controlled, and managed under the pretense of “objectivity.” In David Foster Wallace’s essay, we saw how dictionaries can be arguments over “proper” or “standard” usage; similarly, bell hooks’s essay considers how vernacular speech and “standard” speech confront one another in certain (academic) contexts. This week, we read Roland Barthes’s essay on “The Third Meaning,” and we discussed how Barthes’s idea of punctum represents a form of meaning that is absent from the dictionary. It is this final essay that inspires our first project.

The Basics
This project is the first step in our semester-long project, the iCyclopedia. Like a dictionary or encyclopedia, the iCyclopedia defines and explains key words and terms, but, unlike these traditional reference sources, the iCyclopedia admits its biases and interests because it emphasizes the writer’s relationship to the knowledge it reflects—hence, the “I” in iCyclopedia. We’ll be writing our iCyclopedias in three volumes, and each will focus on a different body of knowledge: the family, our disciplines or fields of study, and popular culture. Volume One focuses on the family discourse.


Volume One of the iCyclopedia asks you to choose four family snapshots and write about them in three ways, using Barthes’s breakdown in “The Third Meaning:”

  1. “An informational level: everything I can learn from the setting, the costumes, the characters, their relationships, their relationships, their insertion in an anecdote familiar to me (however vaguely). This level is that of communication” (Barthes 41). As we said in class, this roughly corresponds to the dictionary-style meaning of a word, its denotative meaning. You will have to explain the action of the photo, who the people in the picture are, your relationship to them—your goal is to provide as much information as necessary so that the reader-viewer can make sense of the image. This section of each entry should be 300-400 words.
  2. “It is intentional (it is what the author has meant) and it is selected from a kind of general, common lexicon of symbols; it is a meaning which seeks me out—me, the recipient of the message, the subject of the reading. . . .I propose to call this complete sign the obvious meaning” (Barthes 43-4). Barthes’s obvious meaning, for our purposes, corresponds closely with a word’s connotative meaning, the meaning that arises only once a word is employed and given context. Your task is to explain the “obvious meaning” of the word by describing its emotional effect on the viewer-reader. Why was this picture taken? Is the action of the image happy, sad, bored, exciting? How is the image framed? What elements of the picture does the image draw attention to, and why do you think those elements are emphasized? What is your emotional response to the image? Why does the image affect you that way? This part of each entry should be 500-750 words.
  3. “As for the other, the third meaning, the one which appears ‘in excess,’ as a supplement my intellection cannot quite absorb, a meaning both persistent and fugitive, apparent and evasive, I propose calling it the obtuse meaning. … It seems to me to open the field of meaning totally, i.e., infinitely. … Analytically, there is something ridiculous about it; because it opens onto the infinity of language, it can seem limited in the eyes of analytic reason” (Barthes 44). As noted, the “obtuse meaning” is where traditional forms of definition and analysis break down; as Barthes shows, though, we can still write about the third meaning. In each image, locate the element of the picture you think captures the obtuse meaning of your image. Use this element as a starting point for research and composition. How does this element (a hand, a hat, a color, whatever it is) appear in different media? Is it echoed in another photograph, a painting, a video clip? Is there a poem, story, film, or song that is related to your sense of this image’s obvious meaning? Does this element suggest a metaphorical description somehow? What in your experience makes the third meaning unique to your reading of the picture? Use these questions (or others we may discover through discussion) to find a way to explain the importance of your pictures’ obtuse meanings. This section of each entry should be 500-750 words.

Your writing about the family snapshots generates the first four entries in your iCyclopedia. Using our class wiki, you will put your entries online.

  1. Use the element of your picture that contains the obtuse meaning (from step three above) to title the entry.
  2. You can either put all three sections of each entry (the communicative meaning, the obvious meaning, the obtuse meaning) on the same page, or, taking advantage of the medium of the wiki, each can have its own page. There are advantages to either way of doing it. On every page, be sure to include a link back to the main page of your iCyclopedia.

We will be sharing our work in class. The goal of this, beside getting feedback from each other and using that to answer questions in and about our work, is to find places where we can cross-reference each other’s iCyclopedia entries (just as dictionaries and encyclopedias do). This will require that we are attentive and engaged as everyone presents his or her work.

  1. You are expected to take notes and ask questions of each other.
  2. After everyone has presented their work, we will have time to arrange cross-references. Cross-refs can be made at any level of meaning. Are there two pictures of a birthday party in the informational level? Cross-reference! Do two pictures feature similarly framed images? Cross-reference! Does your third meaning overlap or correspond with someone else’s? Cross-reference! You should be able to find at least one point of cross-reference for every image.
  3. After finding these cross-references, you need to incorporate them into your iCyclopedia entries. Build a link from your wiki page to your peer’s. You also need to explain the relationship between your image and your peer’s at whatever level you identified the cross-reference; this means accounting for both the similarities and differences in your images and levels of meaning.