Monthly Archives: August 2005

Pet Toads

I got a letter from my brother today. He’s in prison, but moments like this in his letter let me know he’s doing OK: “[W]e caught two more toads and we kept them all in one of those large pretzel jars with some moist gravel in the bottom. Then outside at work we built a terrarium out of lexan and filled it with gravel, a plant, and a water dish. Some afternoons out at work at the powerhouse we scour the neighboring lawns and gardens and catch crickets and grasshoppers for food.” Like most large prison complexes, Jessup has its own machine shop and power plant and vegetable gardens inside the razor wire, and its own native fauna, including geese and cats in addition to the toads my brother describes. And I’m glad he and the guys on his tier have pets; that they have other living things to care for, to create an environment for and to feed. Tink and Zeugma do a lot for my mental health; I know toads aren’t quite as cuddly, but I’m psyched they’re giving him a sense of satisfaction and responsibility, however small, as an antidote to the relentless infantilization that the prison system exercises on inmates.

Cooking Doro Wat

Inspired by Derek, I ordered some berbere spice and koseret from ethiopianspices.com, and tonight I’m making Doro Wat, a spicy Ethiopian chicken stew. Like Derek, I love the stuff; along with Coq au Vin and Hoppin’ John, it’s one of my favorite dishes ever. Unfortunately, I’m not yet brave enough to try making the injera (soft flat pan-bread) with which it’s traditionally supposed to be served, so I’m committing the sacrilege of serving it with soft tortillas: terrible, I know. My recipe’s a little different from Derek’s (and I’m definitely going to have to try it his way), so I thought I might share it here. This uses 6 pounds of chicken, so serves plenty, but it’s easily halved, especially if you just put the unused portion of niter kebbeh in the freezer for next time. The berbere and koseret can be ordered from ethiopianspices.com, and koseret is substitutable; Googling will find you plenty of good recipes for homemade berbere.

1. Start by making niter kebbeh, the spiced clarified butter that’s a staple of so much excellent Ethiopian cooking.

1 cup (16 tablespoons, or 2 sticks) unsalted butter. (Land O’ Lakes is by far the best, because it has the least milk solids; it really does make a difference.)
2 tablespoons koseret (Dried Lippia Javanica, an African relative of lemon verbena — probably the easiest substitute is basil.)
.5 teaspoon cardamom
.5 teaspoon fenugreek
.5 teaspoon dried onion
.25 teaspoon turmeric
.25 teaspoon garlic powder
.25 teaspoon ginger
.25 teaspoon cinnamon
.25 teaspoon cloves

Cut the butter into small pieces so it’ll melt faster. Melt over very low heat and add spices. Let simmer (it should be bubbling, but barely) for 40 minutes or so, stirring often; the goal is to toast the spices without scorching the butter. Pour through a fine strainer and set the clear, liquid clarified butter aside; discard the solids from the strainer.

2. Marinate the chicken.

6 pounds chicken parts (I was more lazy than frugal tonight and bought boneless skinless chicken thighs.)
.5 cup lemon juice
3 teaspoons salt

Set it in the fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.

3. Make the berbere sauce.

.5 to .75 cup berbere powder, depending on how spicy you like it.
.5 to .75 cup dry red wine (I say use the cheapest stuff you can find, but stay away from that nasty supermarket salted cooking wine.)
.5 cup vegetable oil (I like canola oil best because it’s hard to burn and relatively tasteless.)

Combine in a small saucepan and heat to bubbling. Stir and remove from heat.

4. Put it all together.

6 sweet yellow spanish or vidalia onions, finely chopped (1 onion per pound of chicken.)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped (1 clove per pound of chicken.)
.25 cup paprika (Yeah. That’s a lot of paprika. Probably best to use the mild variety the first time out, though I’ve been playing with substituting some of the spicy stuff, or some chipotle chili pepper, for part of the amount.)
1 cup water or chicken stock
.5 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne pepper

Heat the niter kebbeh and add the berbere sauce and paprika. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add onion and garlic and sautee for 5 minutes, until the onion loses its raw smell. Add wine, chicken (with the marinade), spices, and water or stock. Cover and simmer 30-60 minutes or until chicken is tender and coming apart (you might help separate it with a fork, to make grabbing it with the injera or tortillas easier), stirring occasionally and adding water (or, as mine turned out tonight, removing the lid and letting it cook down for 15 minutes at a time if it’s too thin) as necessary to get the sauce to the consistency of cream.

For added authenticity, you could add whole hard-boiled eggs (1 per pound of chicken, pierced to the yolk with the tines of a fork) 10 minutes before it’s done, but I usually don’t bother: it’s good enough without them. It is, however, very spicy, with a sort of sustained heat that may startle folks whose familiarity with spicy foods has been primarily in the context of Latin American or Asian cuisines.

Another Draft In

After much agonizing, kicking, fussing, gnashing of teeth, and spleen, I finally today turned in a draft of Chapter 3. It’s ugly, but it’s a draft. And I’m more than relieved to have the horrible thing off my desk, even though it’s the place where I really start synthesizing my own theory of the interrelationships of class, economy, technology, and composition pedagogy and theory, because I’ve been incredibly vile and pissy and distracted these past few weeks while working on it, like practically snarling at almost anybody who crossed my path, to the point where if I were dating someone right now, this would’ve been when she said, “OK, we’re done; I’m not putting up with your silly crap anymore.” But, yes, it’s a draft. Very, very far from a polished final state, but at least initially complete, like a whole entire honest-to-goodness dissertation chapter.

So OK: deep breath, relax. Time to have some tea, maybe. Time to indulge in a little turn-off-the-brain mass-market McMyth reading. And TV. I could use some really dumb TV.

And the other cool thing is that I stopped by the Writing Program office and picked up the second edition of The Text-Wrestling Book, the FYC textbook our program’s fifteen-member “editorial collective” (of which I was lucky enough to be a part for both editions) has put a whole lot of work into these past couple years. And one thing that kinda startled me is that I took the idea Lesley proposed for the cover and did a few dummy versions of it in Photoshop, so we could tweak it some and then show it to the Kendall-Hunt artists and say, “This is sort of how we’d like the cover to look,” and they actually used most of the elements of the thing I put together from Lesley’s idea. I mean, they made some substantial necessary improvements — making the title pop more, filling in the back cover that I’d left pretty bare — but I was substantially amazed that they’d use the work of someone who’s very much Not A Designer, rather than having their in-house artists do something with it. So I’m simultaneously pleased and a little apprehensive, like worrying: “What if people think it sucks?”

Meh. Then they think it sucks. There’ll be another edition with a different cover in a couple years.

But working on the book was a lot of fun (and a lot of work for all of us involved), and I think it’s pretty good, and I was glad to be able to contribute to it as a co-editor, in addition to being able to offer my beginner’s Photoshop skills.

Restaurants for MLA

Derek’s post about berbere on injera got me homesick for some of DC’s Ethiopian restaurants. Which got me thinking that I’m really, really going to enjoy being at MLA in December, just for the food, although I’m sure I’ll be stressed from interviewing. First on the list of priorities is Dukem for a proper Ethiopian dinner, but I’m also thinking Eat First on H Street in Chinatown for the best (and cheap!) Cantonese roast duck I’ve ever had, taking the Metro up to Negril in Silver Spring for a fine Jamaican lunch, Mama Ayesha’s in Adams Morgan for Lebanese, maybe Jaleo for tapas (I used to temp just up the street) after the theater rush, definitely Half Moon BBQ with live music in Silver Spring, and — though it’s a little more than walking distance from the Silver Spring Metro stop; like a five-minute cab ride down Wayne Avenue — El Gavilan’s Salvadorean food is not to be missed.

Dang I’m hungry.

Zeugma Stays Inside Now

Zeugma: Dad, can I get inside the birdfeeder?
Me: Why would you want to do that, sweetie?
Zeugma: So I can give them a surprise!
Me: Hmmm. What if they don’t want a kitty-cat surprise?
Zeugma: (pauses) Pleeeease?
Me: Do you know about the big, big birds?
Zeugma: (uncertain) What big birds?
Me: Those chickadees and sparrows and wrens at the feeder are just babies.
Zeugma: Really?
Me: Yes indeed. Their parents are as big as warthogs, and they wait until little kitties climb up inside the birdfeeder, and then they swoop down and pick up the birdfeeder and take the kitties back to their nests.
Zeugma: (nervous) What do they do then?
Me: Why, they feed the kitties to their babies, you wicked girl.

Well, OK. It didn’t happen quite like that. But we were out on the back deck today, after quite a bit of birdfeeder activity, and Zeugma managed to stretch herself out up on her hind legs and get her front paws on the feeder and have a little sniff-sniff around the thing that’s provided her with so much viewing pleasure, and I figured she needed a stern talking-to.

Capitalonormativity

I’ve lately been talking a lot about “the diverse economy” and how I wish there were a broader understanding that economics is not limited solely to the analysis of cash transactions. Here, I’ll try to explain why, and also explain why understanding the economy as necessarily diverse and heterogeneous is so important to composition. (This is also one of the last chunks of my dissertation’s Chapter 3, which I’m working this weekend on putting together into a semi-coherent early draft.)

As Gibson-Graham, Resnick and Wolff point out, “The contemporary economic (and therefore also the social) field is represented as dominated by […] capitalist exploitation” (Class and Its Others 13): in other words, we tend to talk about “the economy” as comprising only monetized capitalist market transactions. There are dangers in this essentialized view, however, and “When we refer to an economy-wide imperative of capital accumulation, we stand on the same unsafe ground […] that we tread when we refer to a maternal instinct or a human drive to acquisition” (Gibson-Graham 16). The essentialized equation of economy to money, and its concomitant assertion that the only economic activity operates in the service of the accumulation of money, simultaneously naturalizes a complex set of social relations and interactions, and places that naturalized economy on a transcendent plane, beyond human intervention, beyond question. But “to the extent that the economy has been taken from us — represented as removed from the forces of social and discursive construction — it becomes imporant and urgent to take it back, not as a homogenous and unified level, sphere, or system, but as a discursive terrain” (Gibson-Graham, Resnick and Wolff 2): to do otherwise is to allow for the rationalization and naturalization of economic inequality, to shrug our shoulders and say, “Nothing to be done,” to unconcernedly cast the less privileged into the outer dark, where there will be a weeping and a gnashing of teeth.

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About That Carnival

Kelly Ritter, in the abstract to her June 2005 CCC article, “The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition” (CCC 56:4 601-631), suggests that “the consumerist rhetoric of the online paper mills construes academic writing as a commodity for sale,” and that “such rhetoric appeals to students in first-year composition, whose cultural disconnect from the academic system of authorship increasingly leads them to patronize these sites” (601). In this prefatory one-sentence abstract of Ritter’s article, there are things that immediately jump out at me. First, terms: note that “commodity” indicates an object with a certain exchange value, but that the modifier “for sale” indicates a monetary exchange value for the object. This distinction between exchange value and monetary exchange value is both hidden in and central to Ritter’s subsequent discussion of what she terms “economics.” Second, note the interrelationships already evident among the terms “economics,” “cultural,” and “academic.” In their treatments of socioeconomic class, such scholars as Ira Shor, James Berlin, Henry Giroux, and Lynn Bloom all perform a move similar to the one that Ritter performs in her article’s concluding recommendations: they name an economic (or, for Ritter, monetized) problem, and then suggest a cultural (for Ritter, non-monetized, or academic) solution. This is an all too common practice: to perceive some economic problem, but to also see the economy as beyond intervention, and so to suggest a remedy for the problem as action within an non-economic sphere. Bloom, in her (famous or notorious) articles on class, admits that inequality in wealth and income (i.e., monetary inequality) is what drives class distinction, and then recommends that students adopt and internalize certain cultural practices to remedy such inequality: society’s structural problems are internalized into identity politics. Ritter, in the conclusion of her article, strongly suggests that the internalization of identity politics is a viable (perhaps the only?) solution to our contemporary problems associated with plagiarism, digital reproducibility, and intellectual property.

I think there’s much of value in Ritter’s article, particularly — as others have noted — in her deployment of the distinguishing term “whole-text plagiarism,” and although I wish she’d done more with the excellent work of Rebecca Howard and Margaret Price, I found her extended and multifaceted treatment of authorship issues a helpful spur to the work I’m trying to do on student intellectual labor and intellectual property in the classroom in my dissertation’s fourth chapter. But, as is likely already clear, I’m coming from a very different perspective on what Ritter calls “economics,” and so I’ll here try to be as respectful as possible in pointing out why I think Ritter’s perspective on property, labor, and economics is somewhat limiting.

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The Dissertation Flail

Margaret coined the name for this dance, but she never showed me the moves. So I finally worked out the steps on my own, and I’m glad to share them here for your use, whenever you’re next at the club. As should be evident from the name, it’s a dance best done to slow, angsty, navel-gazing music.

The Dissertation Flail

  1. Go around in tiny circles.
  2. Hold your hands to your head like it hurts, thumbs at temples.
  3. Go around in tiny circles.
  4. Throw your hands into the air, as if in desperation. Do not, under any circumstances, wave them like you just don’t care.
  5. Go around in tiny circles.
  6. Bang your head, old school Metallica-style, but as if against a brick wall.
  7. Go around in tiny circles.
  8. Twitch spastically.

And there you have it: eight bars of Terpsichorean glory. Dance, monkey, dance!

Various Narcissisms

OK, so the conceit of yesterday’s post — framing my working-through of Bourdieu in the context of my theatre example — was overdone and silly. I’m trying to make this dissertation stuff interesting — really, I am — but I should probably listen to the advice several people have offered: the only people you have to write the dissertation for are the three members of your committee. But isn’t that just a horribly depressing idea? Doesn’t that work against my whole rationale for bringing blogging into the writing classroom in order to make writing matter more? I know the advice is meant to be a relief, a way to deflate a dissertator’s narcissistic and self-important anxiety — but it also makes me say: well then why bother? If I were to use the same logic with my students, I’d tell them: you’re not really learning anything here. You’re just going through the motions for a grade.

Anyway.

In the faint and narcissistic hope that it might be of interest to somebody other than my committee: where Williams traces a classed history of the social trends of ideas in English literature, Bourdieu uses a massive ethnography of French society to compose a general theory of the individual’s relationship to class and culture. According to Bourdieu, taste “functions as a sort of social orientation, a ‘sense of one’s place’, guiding the occupants of a given place in social space towards the social positions adjusted to their properties, and towards the practices or goods which befit the occupants of that position. It implies a practical anticipation of what the social meaning and value of the chosen practice or thing will probably be, given their distribution in social space and the practical knowledge the other agents have of the correspondence between goods and groups” (466-467). Again, class is relational, and performed as an experiential process linking multivariate individual subjectivities to overdetermined objective social structures. In describing the difficulty of defining class, Bourdieu notes “the fuzziness inherent in all practical logics,” but adds, as well, the complicating factor that “people’s image of the classification is a function of their position within it” (473). In that last assertion, we see not only a prefiguring of Linda Brodkey’s remarks on class narcissism (and an echo of Marx’s remark that “men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; every thing speaks to them of themselves”), but also the clearest indication in Bourdieu’s work of a rationale for the movement from a mass definition of class to an individuated definition of class.