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.


movin’ on up

Looks like I’ll be teaching 3010 in Fall 2008. I like teaching 1020, but I’m looking forward to moving up and diversifying my teaching portfolio.

These guys were happy with the news too:

write here, write now

I have not yet blogged about Heath Ledger’s death, but I am—as are many of my readers, I’m sure—shaken to the very core of my being by our loss.  Words hardly seem adequate to express my pain.

So I’ll use them for something else instead.  To whit: assignment ideas.

I was thinking about Lars Von Trier’s film The Five Obstructions (read about it here or here).  In this film, Von Trier works with an earlier avant-garde Danish filmmaker; the set-up for  Obstructions is that the older director has to remake a certain classic short film of his five times, but each time Von Trier gets to set a different obstruction the director must abide by: to remake it as an animated film, to have shots of no more than three seconds length, and so on.  The results are sort of mixed, and one’s interest in the film is probably helped by knowing the short film in question (I did not).

Nevertheless, Von Trier presents an interesting scene of rhetorical invention: how do you reach a goal under certain given conditions.  In some ways, this is a fairly typical writing exercise: given a certain rhetorical situation (angry parents, community problem, scholarship applications, etc) students are asked to write an appropriate generic response that accommodates the demands of the given scene.

But I think Von Trier’s method would present an interesting challenge if we took it literally and imposed certain restrictions on student compositions.  I don’t mean common restrictions like, for example, not using Wikipedia.  Rather, I imagine starting with something fairly basic (and otherwise sort of dull) like a definition essay.  Have students draft it as they normally would.  Then . . . apply restrictions or obstructions: Don’t allow them to use their own definitions–they have to show how their chosen term is contested solely through research.  Or: no definitions allowed from the past 150 (or whatever number you choose) years.  Or: restrict the definitions to those from certain continents or cultures.  Or: more challenging and interesting still: they can’t use the word they are defining in their essay.  This final one fascinates me the most because I think it allows for the richest project options: it would be a great exercise in using metaphoric language, or in compiling scenes and depictions and discourses evocative of their word into a hypertext . . . a move toward a networked definition.  Obviously, there would be ways to make this last version work in my long-gestating dictionaries syllabus.

Another idea for that syllabus:

Trying to think of possible texts for the dictionaries syllabus, I thought of The Rock Snob’s Dictionary and The Film Snob’s Dictionary.  The point of using these would not, obviously, be to make rock or film snobs of 1020 students, but rather to demonstrate that pop cultural discourses can build lexica of their own (that the two books satirize this point would be worth some discussion).  Rather, these books inspire a certain amount of rhetorical invention as well: they invite the reader to think about his or her own various lexica and how we move between using lexica with little or no reflection.  That is, one thing I’m interested in is how lexica become naturalized–I don’t name drop Amon Duul during discussions in 7064, just as I don’t mention Peter Elbow at Record Time–but I don’t make conscious decisions about this.  Rather, one thing that is interesting about thinking of cultural or subcultural lexica is the way they can call attention to rhetorical choices regarding audience, tone, diction, etc., in ways that are very often taken for granted (this is the point where the satire begins, I think: when being taken for granted that, for example, an audience will know who Rainer Fassbinder is becomes a point of pride for the speaker).

The assignment should be more than just either the compilation of such dictionaries/lexica or rhetorical analyses of each.  What the assignment should do is collapse this lexica into other sub/cultural lexica inhabited by the student: so, for example, the lexicon of their major  gets mixed with the lexica of the family, pop culture,  religion, ethnic culture, etc.  What I’m missing so far, though, is the way to make that mix work in a more than superficial way.  It’s not enough to say: make a list of words unique to these discourses you inhabit and then put all the words in the same text.  Research can come into it: etymologies, cross-references, etc.  But the words themselves should be bound together by something more than just the student’s use of them, right?  But how could that work?

I see a practical way to use this assignment, which is why my inability to figure out the last bit of the project is frustrating.  But really, this could structure a whole semester: we could use one or both of the above books to do a unit on pop culture, use Raymond Williams’s Keywords as a way to introduce a unit on key terms in a field of study, and then (assuming I find appropriate books)  dictionaries representing other discourses (maybe something like this to represent “the street”?).  The final project would be to assemble the four lexica into one and to write an introduction or preface explaining or justifying the way the lexica works (here the text would be David Foster Wallace’s essay about dictionary and dictionary use).

Another idea, still more gestating:

A very vague idea about using a metaphor as the scene of invention for a research project: Lakoff and Johnson write about metaphor working through source domains and target domains: so, for example, the associations of a source domain get mapped on to the representations of another: Life is a journey, for example, associates the struggle and toil to reach a final destination of “journey” onto the ups and  downs of “life” and its progress toward death.  So, the project would use this model to generate research: after either finding or inventing a metaphor for . . . something . . . students would then conduct their research on the two domains to see if the metaphor exists on other levels or is they generate new metaphorical connections or . . . I dunno.  I like this idea because it makes metaphor a scene of invention, but I’m not sure on what levels the research would need to work in order to be productive: would it be historical research?  etymological?  cultural?  Hmm.


Just because it’s been so long between entries, I’ve decided to post a couple bits and pieces of things I’m working on and the classes I’m taking next semester.

First off, my Winter 2008 seminar:

7064:  The Teaching of Writing, Prof. Ruth Ray

This is a research and theory course for those who are currently teaching or plan to teach college-level writing.  The main course project will be for each student to develop a personal philosophy of writing instruction, based on course readings in the history of writing instruction, as well as research and theorizing on the development of writing abilities in young adulthood.  The other course project will be to write a case study of a college writer, based on observations and interactions with the writer.  This course will be reading and writing intensive.

Despite much resistance, I enjoyed the pedagogy practicum with Rice in Fall of 2006and want to know more.  This, especially, because my interests and reading of late have fallen more into the rhet side of the rhetcomp program (where my interest is  more focused, but I want to be sure I’m up to date on pedagogical theory as well–an because too I feel like a lot of my knowledge of comp pedagogy is sort of second-hand).  I’ve not studied with Dr. Ray before, but I know she’s got strong interests in comp pedagogy (duh) so it should be a pretty sweet seminar.

My directed study, with Lacey and Pruchnic:

Untimely Mediations: Ancient Rhetorics and Emergent Technologies

The itinerary for this directed study begins through a solid engagement with sophistry and pre-Socratic rhetorics before branching off into questions concerning the possible return of sophistic strategies in relation to contemporary information technologies. Texts include works by Gorgias, Aristophanes, Isocrates, Plato, Hegel, Foucault, Deleuze, Alexander Galloway, Leroi-Gourhan, Merlin Donald, Jeffrey Walker, Kathleen Welch, Jeffrey T. Nealon, Marx, Bernard Steigler, Werner Jaeger, Derrida, Lacan, Bataille, Isabelle Stengers, and Zizek.

Study participants will be evaluated on the basis of the following:
1. Oral Reports: weekly meetings to discuss readings
2. Written Reports: weekly responses to the texts to be posted on a blog, and
3. Scholarly Article: The significant revision of a previous, single-author work of scholarship for publication submission before the end of the Winter semester

I dig theory, and I want to know more about ancient rhetorics, and I want especially to start thinking about recuperating ancient rhetorics in new media environments, so I expect this will be off the hook.

Buster Bluth and his hook

Finally, a quick glimpse of my seminar project for Pruchnic’s 70o7:

Abstract: “Rape Beyond the Body: Interrogating the Limits of Assault”

Susan Brownmiller’s (1975) famous contention that rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” has proven a touchstone for feminist theories of rape. Most critics who have responded to Brownmiller have done so by building on her construction of rape as a fundamentally political act of gender terrorism, an act of patriarchal intimidation and control that not only subjugates the female subject to patriarchal discourse and power but also specifically constructs the female subject as the penetrable, rape-able body (see, for example, Gatens 2000, Barnett 2000). Others have responded by calling attention to the way legal discourses surrounding rape perpetuate rape as a political act by focusing strictly on the act of physical assault while effacing the subjective trauma of rape (Campbell 2002).

While some theorists have drawn connections between acts of rape and Michel Foucault’s “technologies of the self” (for example, Cahill 2000), few have yet undertaken an exhumation of Brownmiller’s history of rape in such a way as to consider rape’s relationships to more conventional understandings of technological forms. Barnett perhaps comes nearest by equating rape itself with “disciplinary technology which instantiates the ‘social man’ and the ‘social woman’ (xxiv). Brownmiller herself notes that rape was originally codified as early as Hammurabi, but comes short of analyzing the production of rape as a technologically and discursively bound category of behavior; by tying the invention of the category “rape” to the arrival of literate practice in early Western societies, I hope to inaugurate a discussion of rape’s relationship to technology and to technological progress.

To this end, my project attempts to interrogate the limits of rape as bound by historically situated technologies. Starting with the earliest prohibitions against rape in antiquity (see Brownmiller, Foucault 1985) to the technological innovations of the rape kit and polymerase chain reaction that redefined social response to rape, my project ends with a “speculative history” of rape in the twenty-first century by considering two limit cases that challenge conventional understandings of rape as a crime of body and mind: the rape of coma victims (see Doyle 2003) and of digital avatars (see Dibbell 1993).

So . . . that’s what swinging.  I hope to blog more during the holiday break, but I’ve been a little overwhelmed, schedule-wise, of late–hence the paucity of blogging.



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.