Month: July 2003

John Romero’s Revenge

With the skimming of my last two introduction to sociology texts tonight, I’ve finished the first major chunk of my summer reading list, the basic or foundational materials. Done with Level I, I guess. (I feel like I should get some kind of message scrolling across the text editor for this, or something: “Now that you have conquered the Dimension of the Doomed, realm of earth magic, you are ready to complete your task.” Where’s my powerup?) The last two texts were Sherman and Wood’s 1979 Sociology: Traditional and Radical Perspectives (emphasis on the radical, here: these guys would make Anne Coulter do the Linda Blair 360) and Gelles and Levine’s 1999 Sociology: An Introduction (Sixth Edition). I feel kinda dorky reading the super-simple stuff, but I think my original impulse — grounding the all-over-the-place discourse of composition on class with some concepts from folks (economists and sociologists) who actually study it with consistency and rigor — was a good idea; I definitely gave myself some context, and charted for myself what seem to be the main (and often unexplored, by my discipline) avenues of examination. So: a few things from tonight’s reading.
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All the Classies and Ranks of Vanitie

The Tutor, in his comments, wants to know how I define class, where I see the class lines break. (And yet he uses the word “genteel”! So much in a single word! I know someone who knows someone who says she lives in “genteel poverty” as an adjunct instructor. What class are the “genteel”?) But back to the question: who’s in what class, the Tutor demands. Wants to know how what sense I make of the term. “Get over it,” he says. “Monolithic,” he says. Depends on whose definition you’re talking about, Dear Tutor. You use the word “monolithic,” I reply: that sense of class is all yours.

But he’s right to call me out, really. Lots of readings and attempts at syntheses; very little new ground broken. The Tutor rattles off a string of names, to which I won’t respond in this post, for reasons that should soon become obvious. An initial reply, though, and one again not my own, but gotten third- or fourth-hand: America, and the world perhaps, needs a new class.
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Venting (Edited)

Post lightly edited 5:07 PM 7/29/03: some stuff got changed by mistake in a project I’m working on, and I thought it wasn’t by mistake. My mistake, and I griped about it. Changes indicated in italics.

Old (in internet years) joke: Q: What’s the difference between coders and designers? A: Designers know they can’t code.

I’m frustrated today, because the months of work I put in learning about CSS and then planning, composing, and revising an elegant, readable, and well-commented CSS layout stylesheet seem to have gone out the window.

The short version:

Dreamweaver’s dialog boxes turned most of what I’d done into a sloppy, cluttered, illegible, and non-commented stylesheet. As fine and convenient an application as Dreamweaver is, it’s pretty dumb when it comes to the actual code, and sometimes when things break, you have to go in and fix them by hand. Which is when comments and cleanly written code are very helpful.

Basically, Dreamweaver’s fault. I’ve got a backup.

I’m no expert with Web technologies. I know a little, and I’ve taken the time to learn how to do some stuff with CSS. So: call me the equivalent of the designer who at least knew he couldn’t code.

Soon to be fixed, with no harm done. As usual, I’m too quick to gripe.

Conspicuous Leisure

Worsley talks about “The division within the working class between the ‘rough’ and the ‘respectable'”(316) and notes that when such divisions are coupled to other identity markers — ethnicity, say, or religion — class conflict and resentment can become more intense. A city near here recently agreed to receive (not sure what the proper non-paternalistic verb is here: permanently settle?) several hundred refugees from an African nation. There’s been considerable hubbub, much of it because the community in question is poorer and historically Polish and Puerto Rican and members of those ethnic communities have pointed to the inevitable heightened competition for jobs, apartments, et cetera that will result. In other words, there’s resentment in the community into which the refugees will be attempting to assimilate. This is nothing new — recall the conflicts in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing — but still, it points again to ways in which members of a particular class as economic category will struggle against one another for the same resources rather than engaging in struggle with members of other classes or in attempts to change the nature of the hierarchy.
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Easy Sociological Readings

I’m skimming through a few sections on class in Peter Worsley’s Introducing Sociology, and from there I’ll move on to a couple other basic texts. Shouldn’t take me more than three or four days; there are very few surprises here. Worsley makes the familiar observation that this thing called class has vectors of wealth, power, and status, which leads me to realize that I’ve talked about wealth and status but not much about power, and in fact concerns of power are much closer to my motivations for researching class and seeing how it affects students in the wired writing classroom: I’m less interested in students having more wealth and/or status than I am in them having political power. So Worsley helps me slightly refine my understanding of my own motivations, at least, in a sort of Mr. Obvious way.

Some other ruminations come out of this understanding: the plutocracy that is the United States Congress indicates that “work,” for the very wealthy, often becomes “leading.” The salary a Senator earns is rather small when compared to the average net worth of a Senator, and that net worth is often how the Senator got into office. Still, Americans often see salary as an important marker of class, and so they look at a Senator’s salary and say, “See? She’s a public servant; she’s not really making that much more money than we are.” (Actually, this is a case where my privileging of the feminine pronoun is misguided: the boys are the ones with the big bucks here.) The work of “leadership” actually does make members of America’s owning classes into members of America’s ruling class. And once they’re in office, we focus on what they do as leaders, not what they’re worth, and thereby hide from ourselves the armature of wealth’s political interests.

One last insight, that I think Worsley is sort of deriving from Marx: for our contemporary understanding, the upper class and the working class are functioning primarily as economic categories rather than as historical formations (317). At the same time, Worsley says, “social classes. . . exhibit common patterns of behavior” (317), and in such a way function as something more than just categories: they possess class consciousness.

Time for bed.

Thunderbolt for Mr. Obvious

Yes, it’s Saturday night and I’m home at 11:30 PM. In my defense, I went out tonight and had sushi (yes, we paid) and saw “Pirates of the Caribbean” with a friend. It was great fun, a fine time. Johnny Depp is the Only Living White Male (listen up young Trustafarians, I’m talking about you) who doesn’t look like a total dipwad in dreadlocks, and he’s the word-slurring scene-stealing bemascaraed hottie all the reviews say he is. I hope he ages better than Sean Connery, and I say it’s definitely worth at least the matinee price of admission, maybe even full price. The only drawback: having to watch, during the previews, the MPAA’s dramatized exploitation of wage labor to justify their war for profits in an “anti-piracy” spot. Thanks, Jack Valenti. I’m sure it’s all about the scene-painters, who somehow seem to be not getting a cut of your take from the snips of The Big Chill and Dick Tracy you played. Ahh, capital. It smells like — sniffvictory.

And, speaking of ideologies and the way they influence one’s perspective: well, gosh, Mr. Obvious just had himself a thunderbolt.
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Finishing Wolff and Resnick

Some useful clarifications from the last bit of Wolff and Resnick. I wondered recently who the capitalists were; here’s my answer: “In modern capitalist enterprises, called ‘corporations’ for historical reasons, the role of capitalist is played by a group numbering typically between 9 and 20 individuals: the board of directors” (211). Interesting that our universities have similar boards who meet on a similar quarterly basis, but the objection might be that the university (at least the public institution where I am, and where many composition programs are: as pointed out before, elite private institutions often don’t have first-year writing requirements) isn’t yet a corporation harvesting surplus labor. But I think there’s still something to be said for the construction of education as commodity, especially give the insightful discussions about instructor exploitation (streamlining the workplace, harvesting surplus value from academic or so-called “immaterial” labor) at Invisible Adjunct.
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Questions: Use and Exchange

I write differently when it doesn’t have to be true. Maybe that’s a lesson for the dissertation. That last post, the American Tarot thing, is something I’ve had pieces of hanging around the hard drive in various forms since my MFA days. Not quite a story, not quite anything; never knew what to do with the pieces. But I write differently: the language simultaneously more and less self-conscious, less necessarily attached to me as a person with thoughts, ideas, an agenda. Speaking through a carnival mask, which is why Wealth Bondage came to mind. It’s a nice change from my usual self-halting stumbles and rationalizations and equivocations. I notice, also, that it’s easier for me to write when I’m channeling someone else, which is why the sayback of Donna’s feedback felt like it worked so well. Metafilter does Flash Friday and other folks do the Friday Five; maybe I’ll have myself a Fiction Friday. (I really want to make that last one into three Fs, but I know I’ll later regret the language. Perhaps — thinking of masks again — this weblog needs a potty-mouthed alter ego, to say the things I feel I can’t. Perhaps, but not yet.)

In any case: in talking about Donna’s feedback, I noted that she offered me some questions for future research. They follow, as well as some thoughts about the use and exchange value of writing, and whether I ought to continue to construct this weblog as a research weblog.
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The American Tarot

In his strange and gorgeous novel Amnesiascope, Steve Erickson proposes an American Tarot: in place of the Magician and the Fool, Death and the Lovers, Erickson offers “the Snakecharmer and the Boatman and the Moll and the Slave, the Witch and the Bounty Hunter and the Black Lieutenant and the Salem Mistress. . . the Blind Hitchhiker and the Ripped-Dress Debutante.” Erickson’s writing is habitually brilliant, but this idea — practically a throwaway, an aside in the novel’s hallucinatory and frightening beauty — is an idea I can’t let go. Had I the inventive skill and the time and the artistic ability, I’d create an entire deck, Major and Minor Arcana, of the American Tarot: The Pop Singer, The Gangster, The Salesman, The Skyscraper, The Student, Hollywood, The Welfare Mother, The Miner, The Senate Commission, The Minister, The Corner Store, The Late-Night DJ — what are our other icons? For the power of the Tarot lies in its archetypal echoes, the way these figures represent constellations of cultural, political, economic identities, activities, phenomena: they seem powerfully unique, but they stand for entire classes, arrays, matrices of possibility. The Black Lieutenant carries a hundred thousand narratives of oppression and ascent, structural hegemony and individual agency, romance and loss; so, too, do all the other Arcana all compress their own multiplicities of narratives. The Arcana seem to me to be something like classes, in that they embody the stories people tell about themselves. The stories we tell about ourselves.

We see reflections of them embodied everywhere. We see the Arcana perverted, in their stunted carnival form, in the masks of Wealth Bondage: Candidia Cruikshanks as The Chariot; Dr. Chadwallah, The Hermit; Chastity Powers, The Star; Dick Minim, The Hanged Man. We see other stories, as well.

We see the way they’re drawn and dealt, seventh shuffle and seventh cut, diamonds and hearts, spades, the club, the way they fall, the quadrifold crux, nexus, birth, school, work, death, the wings to either side, fortune, soaring to the possible wax-burn and smoke-trail plummet, Icarine, but to soar and hit it, the gold-paved street, the crystal halls and mahogany offices, the frosted glass through which to gaze, the sunny skies and shaded glades, fragmented, splintered like a stained-glass window, smashed save for the larger lies, super-sized, in the elliptical detail and the alternative history, the myth of celebrity and the lies of the scandal sheet made true.
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History and Struggle

No wonder I’ve been having such difficulties trying to put education into a Marxian class framework. According to Wolff and Resnick, “Only the processes of surplus labor appropriation and distribution refer to class, while ‘nonclass,’ by definition, encompasses all of the other processes of social life. Marxian theory inquires whether and under what specific historical circumstances some of these nonclass processes provide conditions of existence for the capitalist fundamental class process” (203). For Wolff and Resnick, one must produce commodities (the market-sold products of labor) in order to be a part of the class process. The students in the writing classroom, as Susan Miller contends in her account of composition-as-carnival, are historically constructed as preeconomic. This is an assumption that runs entirely contrary to what I’m trying to do.
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