Monthly Archives: June 2005

Early Chapters In

I turned in a little over 50 pages to my advisor today: a solid (but still needing revision) Chapter 1, and an early and somewhat thin (but coherent) Chapter 2. It’s a good feeling. Still: Chapter 1 was essentially my problem statement and introductory analysis, and Chapter 2 was my metonymic review of the literature on student class and pedagogy in composition, and taken together, they’re essentially the preamble to the real economic analysis I’m trying to work through in the rest of the dissertation. Chapter 2 proposed that there are five major parameters of class in the literature of composition — power and exploitation, occupation, wealth and income, education, and taste and values — and further ventured that as determinants of class these parameters are often examined largely in isolation from one another. Unfortunately, in this cycle of drafting I was unable to figure out how to work into Chapter 2 my look at the rhetoric of the authenticity of the lived experience of class that seems to come up so often in composition’s discourse, no matter which parameters of class such rhetoric invokes. That rhetoric is something I’ll want to circle back to in my later chapters that deal with the intersections of economics and subjectivity-production online (the Paris Hilton stuff), so I’ll have to figure out where to foreground it in revising Chapters 1 and 2.

For the next few weeks, though, my task is to churn out a dirty-but-down draft of Chapter 3, which is one that I’ve been anxious about because it attempts an ambitious (and, for me, difficult) weaving-together of class, cultural, and economic abstractions from a variety of sources.

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Dirty Data

Cameron Marlow, a PhD candidate at the MIT media lab, has put together a survey about weblogs to further his dissertation research, and it looks like a lot of folks I know have filled it out. As a fellow dissertator, I was glad to be able to help him out, and I think the project is a great idea. (From his links, he’s also doing all sorts of other cool stuff, as well.) However, I’ve got to say I found myself a little frustrated with the limits set by his questions in my attempts to respond to his survey. The MIT media lab, I think, could use a research methods seminar.

The survey’s minor infelicities — it asks if you met your family online; there’s no selection for “colleague” when it asks how you know someone; it requests occupational data in categories that reveal more about the author than about possible respondents — don’t take away from its value. More problematic, though, are the ways it frames the crawl it does on your blog: upon finding 'a href' tags (er, including in my case a link to an explanation of the 'rel' attribute that may have been helpful to Marlow), it asks you to classify the link, offering these options: weblog, weblog entry/post, personal homepage, part of my weblog, other. Are these really the only sorts of pages to which webloggers link? (I’ve heard a number of qualitative researchers observe that “other” often tends to get a whoooole lot of responses.) Actually, though, this may have been a really smart reason for Marlow’s limiting of the form’s options — but I fear he might have sacrificed research accuracy for research efficiency. As one commenter observed, it’s also troubling to see what the survey’s list of transactional motivations for blogging doesn’t include: learning isn’t on there, for example. Nor is the pleasure of writing.

Like I said, the project seems important, smart, and well-intentioned — but I also worry it’ll likely return some problematically dirty data.

But I’m a Vestal!

The first episode of Empire, ABC’s new miniseries about Rome during the time of Augustus, was silly, lurid, and chock-full of ridiculous inaccuracies.

I think the series is off to a damn fine start.

It’s a gorgeous spectacle, and the actors are immensely pleasurable to watch, especially the (OK, admittedly on-target) depictions of Brutus (spineless), Cassius (slimy), and Antony (brutal). They’ve definitely got me hooked for the rest of the series.

If you’re following it, the middle hundred pages or so of H. H. Scullard’s From the Gracchi to Nero are an accessible — and absolutely peerless — crib sheet for the times.

CW05: Materializing Resistance

Apologies for taking so long to put up my last panel notes — kind of got a whole bunch of different things going on right now. I was also kind of anxious because, to be honest, it was one of the best panels I saw; Jim Ridolfo and David Sheridan and Tony Michel fit their presentations together really well thematically speaking; but I also liked it because I saw so much in it that intersected with my research interests and offered me some new and startling insights. All three focused, in one way or another, with the intersection of multimodal discourses with the discourse of the civic, as their panel’s subtitle (“Digital Rhetoric as a Civic Technology”) might demonstrate, but all three were very careful to acknowledge a sophisticated awareness of the many problems associated with the privileging of civic discourse, which made me happy — one so rarely sees, in our field, an acknowledgement that the public sphere was initially theorized as a bourgeois space.

Jim’s presentation, “Rhetorical Veloooocity!!!: The Economics of the Press Advisory and Tactics of Activist Delivery,” dealt with his work at Michigan State with the Worker Rights Consortium, composing activist press advisories with the knowledge and intent that the language of those advisories may be appropriated by the press. Basically, using the example of the sequence of rhetorical production and circulation of these releases, Jim demonstrated the deep connections between rhetorical delivery, re-seen economic theories — of production, distribution, consumption, appropriation, and re-production — and activist strategies for economic change. In fact, Jim argued, the rhetorical canon of delivery can be theorized through the lens of economy, including — in particular — the rhetorical situations in which the mass delivery, redistribution and re-appropriation of writings are the rhetorical objective. In the context of distribution defined as a tactic of delivery planned for economic circulation, Jim’s term “rhetorical velocity” refers to an accelerated delivery tactic (or cycle?) fostering the appropration of texts. He offered the example of a “News Advisory” sent to local papers concerning a protest event that used the words “students will dance vigorously”: two newspapers that actually sent reporters did not use those words, but the paper that did not send a reporter — only a photographer — described the event as “vigorous dancing,” and offered no reporter’s name on the news piece that ran following the event. Jim then showed a timeline demonstrating how quickly that cycle of appropriation operated: press release on Tuesday, event on Thursday, the appropriated-language news piece on Friday. In his conclusions, Jim compared the activist economy, the economy of the reporter, and the economy of media, all on immediate, near, and long-term scales, and noted that these three economies overlap in the ways different parties construct the economic value of a distributed text. Brilliant stuff, and this too-brief description doesn’t do it justice.

David Sheridan’s presentation on “Materializing Ethics and Multimodal Civic Rhetoric” described how different forms of production and semiotic affordances can open up shifting civic opportunities, working from the perspectives of the different but intersecting axes of understanding rhetoric as a material practice and rhetoric as an ethical practice. (And I know that sentence is a huge, mangled tangle of David’s language; I’m hoping he’ll set me straight.) In other words: how do material considerations intersect with rhetorical ethics?

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John Lovas

John Lovas passed away yesterday. I was one of those people who visited his weblog regularly and was concerned that the recent quiet there was uncharacteristic of John. John was outgoing and outspoken, a sociable and generous colleague, scholar, mentor, and friend. Like many, I’m sure, I’m startled by death’s swift pace: one colleague had been working to edit a collection of writing in John’s honor for his retirement, and I’m saddened to know that John won’t see it. John’s weblog posts, his mentoring and activism, his presence at conferences and in our disciplinary literature, his comments here and elsewhere: I’ll sorely miss them all.

But if you go back through John’s archives, as I did this afternoon, you realize that the things John had to say — the insights he so often offered — still stand, in conversations that we’re still having.

I’ll stop with that, because my eyes are misting up.

CW05: Copyright Anxiety

D├ínielle Nicole DeVoss, Nancy Allen, and Stephanie Vie gave a presentation titled “Copy-Right Anxiety: File Distribution and Intellectual Property,” and I’m not sure what the hyphenation means — maybe foregrounding the question of whether it’s ethical or right to copy? I didn’t hear them explain it, but that certainly didn’t detract from the quality of their presentations. D├ínielle’s focused on using examples of video pastiche to theorize some implications of new media convergence, while Nancy’s had a deeply pedagogical focus on the implications of open source practices for the classroom, and Stephanie’s examined the intersection of students’ attitudes about peer-to-peer file-sharing and their attitudes about plagiarism; the three, taken together, sparked a lively discussion and composed a sort of collective matrix of insight about the nature of intellectual property online.

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CW05: The Politics of Digital Literacy

Casey and I got our presentations out of the way (the bare-bones version of mine is here: I had the rather stressful experience of a kernel panic and hard crash the night before while I was trying to put together some accompanying PowerPoint slides), and we’re happy to have that done. We got lots of insightful comments from generous respondents, and I hope our presentations have enough in common that we’ll be able to smush them together into something publishable.

Anyway: what I want to talk about here is the really impressive first panel I went to, on “The Politics of Digital Literacy: Cases for Institutional Critique,” since Kris Blair, Mary Hocks, and Michelle Comstock all gave enviably smart and well-put-together talks that intersected in productive and provocative ways, especially in that — while sharing a common theme and associations with large, diverse urban or state universities — Mary’s focused on institutional concerns, Michelle’s on community concerns, and Kris’s on personal concerns.

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CW 2005: Drupal Workshop

This isn’t a review of the excellent all-day session on using Drupal as a writing course community content management system, but just a way to say thanks to Charlie Lowe, Jim Kalmbach, Bradley Bleck, and Tim Lindgren (as well as some helpful long-distance commentary from Samantha Blackmon and Clancy Ratliff) for a great workshop. Kieran Lal assisted as well with some tutoring and a short and impressive presentation on CivicSpace, the reincarnation (?) of the DeanSpace distributed open source content management system designed specifically for the needs of a grassroots political campaign. I learned lots and lots and lots today — my brain hurts — and I’m looking forward to trying out some of Drupal’s way-beyond-just-blogging capabilities with my students in the fall.

My presentation’s tomorrow morning. (And, uh, I could still really use some help with a title.)

Entitlement

Well, today’s been a really, really long day, but I got here in one piece, and of course I already miss Tink and Zeugma. Thanks to some excellent feedback from my co-presenter, I’ve managed to trim substantial fat from my presentation for Panel B.5, “Self Representation and Agency in a Web of Commercialization,” although I’m hoping our audience might not notice the spots where I’ve, er, pretended to insert a transition. Or inserted a pretend transition. Or something like that.

What I really need to work on is coming up with a title that isn’t awful. “Paris and Me” is kind of a textual nod to Harriet Malinowitz’s super-smart JAC piece “David and Me,” with said textual nod’s glaring problem being that my piece isn’t about me at all. (Although there are some interesting things about the commodification of identity in Malinowitz’s piece.) So then I thought maybe something like “Branding Payton Manning,” but realized the lame attempt at rhyme was, more than anything else, kinda dorky, and besides, a title like that conjures up rather unsavory mental images.

I’d be grateful for title help from anybody who’s read the two parts of my original draft. This is the first presentation I’ve ever written that has a shoe fetish, so I’m thinking as far as themes for the title go, well, it’s gotta be the shoes. Ideas?

Celeste Dessau

“We sit in our dark rooms,” Celeste Dessau said. “Traffic in the area is being rerouted for reasons nobody is willing to discuss. Wild animals have been seen entering the city. All air-mail letters are returned to sender. We are determined not to turn on the lights. Manhole covers begin shooting into the air. It rains in triplicate.” (Don DeLillo, Ratner’s Star.)