Month: October 2003

Vampire Pirate at the Hospital

This won’t be much of a Friday non-dissertational, I’m afraid, ’cause it wasn’t much of a Friday night. Wound up having to go down to the hospital — nothing dire, don’t worry, but I originally thought it was, which is why I went — and, well, it was Halloween at the hospital. I looked kinda like Frankenstein having a bunch of wires hooked up to my chest and arms and legs, but that wasn’t the worst of it. I did a double-take when the tech came in to take my blood, since he was completely done up like a pirate: the frilly-sleeved lace-up white shirt open to show the chest hair, the tricorn hat, the eyepatch, the facial scar and sunburn makeup, the cutlass, the scarf, you name it. And he was carrying his little chest of syringes and vials. The only thing that could have made it better woulda been if he’d said “Trick or treat!” before taking my blood.

Then they gave me some drugs and sent me on my way. And my wonderful, kind friend who came to keep me company at the hospital took me out to dinner in Fat City afterwards.

I’m a lucky man.

More on the Prospectus

What I posted the other day was the first third of the prospectus; the place where I say, “Here’s why this is necessary.” The second third, the middle part, is basically a nod towards the review of the literature (here’s how class shows up in x, y, and z) I’m going to have to do, plus methodology: why am I choosing these texts? (I’ll probably have to say something a little more sophisticated than, “Well, my disciplines barely talk about class at all, so I’m pretty much covering the whole shebang. You’re lookin at it, baby.” Because part of what I’m doing is showing that even when it’s not explicitly present, class is still implicit in so many of the theoretical discussions writing teachers engage in.)

Where I’m stymied is the third third; the final part. I figure I can put together a pretty solid rationale for what I’m doing. I can summarize a dash through the literature for class seen and unseen, no problem. I’ve even got the beginnings of some conclusions: I like Bourdieu’s relational infinitude of classes; the instrumental view of technology can only further marginalize any progressive agenda in composition — but how do I look forward to a conclusion that I haven’t yet arrived at myself?

One possibility: a common rhetorical concluding move is the call for more research. Perhaps I should ask, particularly given my recent “D’oh!” moments concerning the expanded economy, what forms such additional classroom research might take. How do the intersections of Bourdieu’s notions of class, the diverse or heterogeneous economy, and an alternative to technological instrumentality shape the questions one might ask about the classroom?

Economics, Plus My Good Day

I’ve been having a really tough time getting my head around Gibson-Graham’s project “to enlarge our conception of what constitutes ‘the’ economy” (“The Diverse Economy” 19) into an economic understanding “emptied of any essential identity, logic or organizing principle or determinant” (19). My immediate impulse is to ask: well, if you’re doing that, what makes anything economic? Doesn’t the whole term “economic” then lose its meaning?

Part of me still thinks it kinda does, but in my slow way, I’m coming to understand that The Economy can be a heterogeneous body, something that’s different from itself in the same way that feminism has constructed a de-essentialized understanding of femininity that is different from itself. While the widespread contemporary conception is one that Gibson-Graham describes as having shifted “from an understanding of the economy as something that can be managed (by people, the state, the IMF) to something that governs society” via “a hegemonic move through which representations of economy have slipped from their locations in discourse and landed ‘on the ground,’ in the ‘real,’ not just separate from, but outside of society” (1), we might construct an alternative understanding by which, if The Economy is heterogeneous, it can contain practices other than the capitalistic. In a way, this is what The Tutor and Gerry and Notio and others have been going on about for a while, only I was too thick to pick up on it: philanthropy, the gift economy, and associated phenomena are forms of economic activity that may serve as alternatives to capitalism’s all-consuming and pitiless Leviathan.

Which brings me back to questions of definition. What is an economy, anyway? What constitutes economic activity? If our understanding of the economy is to be enlarged and heterogeneous, then what isn’t economic?
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Two Quick Links

I’ve put most of my energy in the past few days into getting the draft of my prospectus (part of which I posted yesterday) into working order. But during breaks, there are a couple things that have kept me going.

First: I’ve been enjoying the debate in a comments thread at Invisible Adjunct I mentioned a few days ago (check out Cindy’s response to my note here, too: scary stuff) over economic concerns and exclusive colleges. (I think I’d be enjoying it even more if Anon were actually making solid points grounded in evidence, and thereby teaching me something, but this seems to not be the case.)

Second: the Washington Post’s Style Invitational, while it certainly has its off moments, is usually pretty dang funny, especially this one.

Prospectus Exigency

Here we go again, or part one at least, where I try to say, “This is why it’s important.” Comments welcomed — encouraged — sought, especially in terms of making the language more clear to those not familiar with the concerns.

In the literature of computers and composition, scant explicit attention has been paid to the issue of socioeconomic class. Yet, as Charles Moran points out, computers and composition as a discipline has traditionally constructed the functions of technology in the wired writing classroom as fostering either efficiency (making the production and circulation of writing easier) or equity (making the classroom a more democratic space), and both efficiency and equity are concerns associated with class: the former with relations of production, and the latter with relations of privilege. Moran notes that Thomas Brownell’s reference in “Planning and Implementing the Right Word Processing System” to the “increased productivity” (5) computers can bring to student writing is symptomatic of the perception common in the early years of the journal Computers and Composition that computers would make writing more efficient, and Donna LeCourt’s hope that “technology offers a way to provide students with the means to critique how their textual practice participates in ideological reproduction” (292) reflects the growing perception that technology can be used to serve critical pedagogy’s end of fostering a fairer and more equitable classroom (and, by extension, a fairer and more equitable society).
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Friends, Romans, Countrymen

According to George Kennedy, ethos was much more important to Roman rhetoric than it was to Hellenistic rhetoric: “The egotistical element seems stronger among Latin than in Greek orators. . . a Greek orator tends to argue his audience into believing something; a Roman by his authority convinces the audience that something should be believed because he says so” (The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World 42), to such an extent where “The lack of modesty which we sometimes think of as a peculiar weakness of Cicero was a permanent feature of Roman oratory” (101). Consider Quintilian’s privileging of the vir bonus, the good man speaking well: the Romans were much more bothered than the Greeks by the supposed ability of an orator to “make the weaker cause appear the stronger”.

One wonders where such concerns have gone today. Contemporary political discourse seems suffused with concerns about character, perhaps because of our own worries about the misuses of language (“It depends on what the meaning of the word is is”) and rhetoric, and despite our apparent post-ironic acuity about such misuses.

Perhaps I’m simply mistaken in attempting to use a comparison between Quintilian and Isocrates as a metaphor for contemporary thought about rhetoric. Tacitus and Seneca the Elder may be far more appropriate figures for thinking about the world of Roland Barthes and Donald Rumsfeld.

Jean Anyon in Higher Ed

There’s (as usual) an interesting discussion over at Invisible Adjunct, this one about the scant numbers of undergraduates earning history degrees. As the discussions there tend to do, it’s broadened its scope, to the point where I couldn’t resist adding something — the Adjunct’s is one weblog where I usually find myself lurking rather than responding, often because I feel strongly enough about the issues she raises that I can’t avoid lapsing into rhetorical bombast. (To offer a small defense, I’ll point out that the discussions there are often vigorous: I just know I tend to get dumber when I get het up.) While I was as usual unable to avoid overstatement, the discussion’s taken some productive turns, and the more I go back over it the more it engages me.

There’s some dispute over the examples of Amherst College and Swarthmore College and what they represent, and that dispute got me thinking, and — inspired (well, I’m pretty much completely stealing an idea of hers) by my neighbor and colleague Erin — checking out some links.
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Dimes from the Cinders

Note to self: if you’re eventually fortunate enough to start getting some good stuff published, Mike, and if you’re ever fortunate enough to get yourself to professor-land, please don’t assign your own stuff as required seminar reading material. Cause when you have your students discuss your stuff, it’s so easy to slip into them discussing you, and that sets up some nasty alignments. You’ll have the ones who give you the “Oh it was so good to read” and you’ll have the ones who won’t, and those ones who won’t — if they raise any questions — are gonna look to at least some of the other students like they’re attacking you. And there’s no good way to answer those questions that pleases everybody — you, the believers, the sycophants, the questioners.

Bet y’all can’t guess what happened in seminar tonight.
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Like the Weather

Yesterday I talked about how “I want to show how capitalist discourses of class are very much present in the composition classroom, a space historically thought to be free of such crassly materialistic concerns”. In my readings today, I was glad to have a little supporting evidence in Larner and Heron’s pointing-out, in “The Spaces and Subjects of a Globalizing Economy”, of the “tendency in cultural literature to portray the political-economic as ‘background’, foundational to the apparently more interesting issues of meaning, identity and representation” (6). English types work with words and ideas and so assume that the words and ideas are always the most important (or sometimes even the only) thing. In fact, I think that’s why so many English types have swallowed whole the tenets of poststructuralism: hey, if everything’s discursive, then that makes English really important, right?

Which isn’t to say that I think these things (these words, rather) are unimportant. In fact, the poststructural perspective offers a nice antidote to the Cartesian privileging of the immaterial in its understanding that words themselves have material consequence. And yet English types, as Larner and Heron indicate, don’t talk about The Economy; we presume that it’s, as they say, “background,” or perhaps more accurately, somehow transcendent, beyond our grasp. Such a perspective makes the economy into “something that does things to us” rather than “something we do”, to invert my quotation yesterday from the Community Economies Collective. And if it’s transcendent, ubiquitous, all-encompassing, it becomes almost like the weather only man-made (sic), something so around us and beyond control as to be worth our attention only in passing. Larner and Heron show how, in discussions of economic globalization, “A complex and contradictory set of processes was re-presented as a relatively coherent and universalising process that was both monolithic and disembodied” within which “agency was re-inscribed as the particular — as the moment where apparently universal processes become specific” (8, emphasis in original).

The reason I’m so interested in computers is that computers make the tendencies I’ve described above much more visible in the classroom. Discussions of technology in composition often separate technology from its context, just as economic discourses (both neoclassical and Marxian) do: technology is understood as an instrument separate from its surroundings which possesses the transcendent agency for producing changes to and within those surroundings. This is almost exactly the same way people involved with teaching first-year writing think about literacy in relation to the economy, and this is why I think it’s so important.