Monthly Archives: May 2004

RSA Presentation

I timed an out-loud reading of this, and it clocked in at way too long, so I’m in the process of cutting it by about a third. The presentation, ten hours from now, will be the radio edit; consider this the extended dance mix. I’d be more than grateful for any gripes, critiques, disagreements, or suggestions.

[Note: links added to clarify references and make the essay a little more Web-friendly. Feel free to point me to additional sources.]

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From Ancients to Internet

I was very much looking forward to the panel on “New Vistas for Rhetorical Inquiry: From the Ancients to the Internet”, and was disappointed to hear that Kristine Potter was unable to give her presentation on “Liberating Technology: What Paulo Freire Can (not) Do in a Computer Classroom”. Still, I enjoyed Erica Frisicaro on “Naming Rights: Establishing Ground for the Foreign in the Origins of Classical Rhetoric”, Alice Gilliam on “From Page to Screen: Using Film Adaptations to Teach Visual Rhetoric”, and Virginia Kuhn on “Avoiding the Cracks: Visual Literacy and the Digital Divide”. None of the presentations were quite what I might have expected from their titles, but each did unique and powerful work, and what I most enjoyed was the Q & A session, where there were some genuinely interesting connections made. Of course, I’m biased, since the paper I’m presenting on Monday is one that attempts to make precisely those sorts of connections between classical rhetoric and contemporary technologies, but still, I thought it was a great panel. Even though I got the totally wrong idea when I saw that Erica was from the University of St. Thomas.

(Aside regarding sexism or the risk thereof: in my previous post, I referred to all three of the presenters — all male, all older — by their last names, having had no interaction with them whatsoever. I’m going to refer to Erica, Alice, and Virginia by their first names here, because I had the good fortune to chat briefly with them over a beer out on the patio after their presentation, and they were really pleasant people, and friendly: it’d feel weird and rude to refer to them by their last names.)
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Rhetoric’s Changing Place

So I’m sitting here on the noisy patio outside the hotel bar and above the pool, working on a Shiner Bock and wondering if writing up my notes is really what I want to be doing in this gloriously warm and breezy weather, watching the birds — deep, shiny purple-black with yellow eyes and slim, curved beaks; definitely not crows (too small, for one thing, and the wrong cry), sort of like oversize grackles? — dive and turn among the cast-iron tables and hop and scold along the low-hanging branches.

Janet Atwill (chair), John Brereton, Randall Popken, and Thomas Miller filled a too-small conference room this afternoon. There were more than a few people sitting on the floor, and still more crammed in and standing against the back walls. On top of that, I think the room had the single largest proportion of full professors, department heads, and executive and editorial board members that I’ve seen at any conference presentation. The panel’s full title was “Rhetoric’s Changing Place in Composition and Communications”, and it examined rhetoric’s historically varying fortunes in the disciplines of higher education, focusing specifically on communication, English, and composition. The size and pedigree of the audience was entirely merited: good, good stuff. Here’s my go at trying to do it justice.
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Moral Vernaculars

The featured speaker at RSA’s opening session tonight was Gerard Hauser, who gave a fantastic talk on “Moral Vernaculars and Rhetorics of Conscience” that examined how rhetoric functions in the discourse of human rights. Hauser suggested that the moral universals of general declarations of human rights stand opposed by local moral vernaculars, and those moral vernaculars flow from the orientation of the vice to which they respond. In other words (if my hasty notes have got this right), local moral vernaculars focus on a single vice, amplified and extended to permeate society, whether that vice is cruelty become genocide, avarice become exploitation, or snobbbery become racism. But the uses of local moral vernaculars presuppose the existence of universal human rights, so that “The globalization of human rights is a function of the localizatioon of the moral vernacular”.

In fact, our inaction in the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia came because we had no moral vernacular with which to understand those circumstances. There was pity and outrage, but pity is a spectator sport that may in its attention to the difference of circumstances work against empathy rather than towards it. The spectacle of the body in pain may create pity, but empathy and a sense of obligation to act are harder to come by unless our understanding moves from the spectacle itself to the reasons, causes, and circumstances that brought such a spectacle into being. As long as we remain fixated on the images of Abu Ghraib, rather than the causes that lay behind them, we may find ourselves able to morally empathize, but lacking the moral vernacular with which to formulate a response: instead, we remain in a moral panic, demanding courts-martial for all, demanding immediate withdrawal of forces, demanding national unity, demanding the demolition of Abu Ghraib — but none of these are remedies that will prevent such horrors from occurring again. We have yet to develop the moral vernacular that will help us understand their causes.

It was an excellent talk, far more sophisticated, considered, insightful, and engaging than my scant and inadequate notes here might indicate.

Hello Austin

While San Antonio at 80 degrees in March was a treat after a New England winter, Austin at 90 degrees leaves me missing the 70-degree temperatures back home.

But I definitely can’t complain about my hotel room.

Balcony outside the hotel room overlooking the river.

And here’s the view from that balcony last night.

Austin nighttime skyline reflected in the river.

Like I said, I can’t complain.

Ran into a friend of a friend today, who turned out to be one of the ruder people I’ve met. She sure showed me, I guess.

And the paper’s done, except for the minor tweaks I’ll continue to make up until I present it. I’ll post it the presentation version on Monday. Right now, I think I might go have myself a Shiner Bock before heading to Gerard Hauser’s talk on “Moral Vernaculars and Rhetorics of Conscience”.

Citing Weblog Comments

What’s the proper MLA format for citing a weblog comment? More specifically, how does one acknowledge the comment author and comment title (if applicable), and does one need to acknowledge the weblog title and weblog author? Does Gibaldi’s 2003 Handbook edition entry 5.9.9.k, “An Online Posting”, feel adequate? I’d be grateful for any advice from folks who are teaching writing classes where students read and cite weblogs.

Zeugma Dreams

I’ve got the pieces of the RSA paper put into the order I want, and I’m working on transitions and a works cited. As always, it’s taking longer than I thought.

Zeugma saw her black-capped chickadee today. She froze stock-still and I followed her gaze up to the birdfeeder, watched her hunker down, watched the front legs tense and the tail lash as the little bird scolded and hopped and took its seed, and — just as the hindquarters started to quiver — I saw Zeugma’s pupils dilate. The black center to those green eyes got huge, so fast. Taking in more light: gauging.

She sleeps on my desk. She’s learned not to chase the cursor on the screen, learned that it’s not something she can catch. She still sometimes wants to touch the caps lock, but mostly — when she’s not asking me to throw crumpled-up Post-It notes for her to fetch — she’ll lie down next to the keyboard. Now, I watch her, watch as those front paws twitch, as the back legs scrabble a bit, as that little ribcage suddenly speeds its up-and-down, as her ears and nose and whiskers flutter, and I have to stop myself from waking her up, worried that she’s having a nightmare after the thunderstorms, hoping that she’s dreaming the chickadee instead.

Public Rhetoric

Didn’t post last night because Verizon’s web access was down. It’s become practically a daily event for them, which is really frustrating when you’re trying to do Web work. Which is why I’m working on my RSA paper now, instead of getting most of it out of the way last night like I wanted.

And I’m studiously not listening to Bush’s address to the War College in Carlisle (which I always thought was at Fort McNair, in DC, but it turns out Fort McNair — while site of the original Army War College — is actually home to the National Defense University), because I had it on for the first five minutes and simply couldn’t take it. The rhetoric was absolutely predictable, without a single surprise, and the frat-boy smugness of the tone just drove me up the wall. I’ll read it online tomorrow.

But I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty nice, symmetrical setup for my paper: after the introduction, I’ll work through the connections of public rhetoric to the public lives of the Romans, and from there move on to the private lives of the Romans and how self was constructed by contest, and from there move to our private lives today and how students have an interest in rhetorically constructing selves, and from there to our public lives today in the political discourse of weblogs, and the need for an effective public rhetoric that goes beyond the production of subjectivities and into political action. Public Rome, private Rome, private Empire, public Empire: not a bad structure, right? The conclusion will suggest how recent events with Trent Lott and Howard Dean display the power and limitations of the public rhetoric of private citizens, and I’ll probably use that quote from Tacitus about the failures of rhetoric as a final caution.

So with the thunderstorms, I’m just hoping the power stays on.