Month: May 2006

More Chapter Revisions

Chapter 4 has been the hardest chapter of the dissertation to write, because it’s the one where I’m synthesizing all the arguments from previous chapters — economy, overdetermination, technology, historical change, class, affect, student writing — in order to lead into Chapter 5’s big finish. Sort of a grand unifying theory of everything for my dissertation’s argument. And it’s been the most difficult and intensely frustrating to revise. The first draft clocked in at a little under 11,000 words; in the middle of the revising process, it got cut down as low as 8,000 words; and now it’s back up at more than 12,500 words. And yes, that 4,500-word difference is all new writing, and the shape and progression of the chapter has changed radically: nothing is where it used to be.

I think my prior life as a would-be fiction writer (yes, I’ve got the MFA to prove it, and little else) is partly to blame for my struggles with revising. My advisor today observed that my process with these chapters tends to follow a pretty specific path: initial draft of highly dense, fraught prose relying upon relations of parataxis to indicate implicit connections between ideas; paring down to a core set of concepts; hypotactically spelling out all the presuppositions and implications associated with those ideas; and then re-sequencing everything and filling in all the gaps with highly explicit transitions and argumentative signposts. In other words, I start out in the fiction-writer mode of showing concrete action but wanting to let the audience fill in the thematic connections, and then try to convert and update in accordance with the conventions of academic argument.

Yeah. Talk about finding the single wholly and completely idiotic bass-ackwards and flat-out dipshitsical way to write a flippin dissertation. Does Bizarro Superman have a correspondingly stupid Bizarro Braniac arch-enemy? ‘Cause right now, that is so totally me.


All the above serves to tentatively propose that the 12,500 words of Chapter 4 that I’ve got now are pretty close to being good enough for the other two members of my committee to see, and everything feels like it’s starting to come together. Chapter 1’s problem statement, Chapter 2’s review of the literature, Chapter 3’s construction of a revised theory to address the problems in the literature indicated by Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 4’s synthesis, and now moving into finishing up Chapter 5’s conclusions and implications. Which means I’ve still got a lot of work to do really quickly, but I’m no longer in the despair mode that I got myself into for a while. I’m at the point where I can step back and look at the thing as a whole and say, “Yeah. This definitely works. It’s got rigor, and it’s original as hell.”

So enough with the self-congratulation already. Back to work, monkey-boy.

Best Academic Weblog

I was very happy to hear that this year’s Kairos John Lovas Memorial Academic Weblog Award, for the academic weblog which has made a significant contribution to the field of rhetoric and composition, goes to Clancy Ratliff’s CultureCat.

As a public intellectual who regularly engages other academic webloggers both within and beyond composition and rhetoric, Clancy has long been at the leading edge of discussions of new and emerging intersections of technology, rhetoric, and pedagogy. Her blog entries maintain an engaging and often witty balance between the academic and the personal, and she’s a reliable leader in pointing to new resources, new developments, and new debates in our field. Finally, she’s generous in her linking practices, and has been responsible for helping more than a few new academic bloggers get established.

I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. Give Clancy your congratulations at KNews or at CultureCat.

Francois on Time

Francois offers an extremely helpful thought in his response to my recent misreading of his comment. He points out that “There are three moments in the [gift] transaction: giving, receiving, using what has been received,” and this lines up in remarkable synchronicity with the attention I give to notions of temporality in the latter portion of my dissertation. In Chapter 3, I point to how Raymond Williams and Pierre Bourdieu use time as an aspect of the overdetermination of class, and how composition’s definitions of class are conspicuously silent regarding the function of time, especially in the discourse of the “working-class academic,” because — of course — acknowledging time and historical change eliminates the possibility for the so-called “working-class academic” to collapse the difference between class position and class background in order to invoke the argument of authenticity.

The attention Francois offers to the temporally distant commodification of writing skills is important, as well, in the way that what he calls “using what has been given” aligns with Bruce Horner’s ideas about the ways in which we theorize the value of student labor contribute to that labor’s necessary and inherent commodification. Setting the temporal horizon of valuation as distant rather than present is a commodifying act. But in his temporal taxonomizing of the components of the gift transaction — gift, receipt, use — Francois has offered me a useful supplement to the ways I use Mariolina Salvatori’s work on the temporal synthesis of the hermeneutic and deconstructive moves to show that writing that holds truly diverse and heterogeneous value for the students is at once temporally distant and present. This also offers me a way to come back to my argument for a diachronic rather than synchronic way of seeing the economy of the writing classroom: if we don’t look at the classroom as processual, as functioning in trajectories of overdetermined historical change, we completely and abjectly fail to construct a pedagogy that goes beyond mere vocationalism or the teaching of good manners in prose.

This is why I love blogging: for the opportunity to engage with fierce, smart folks like Francois, like Clancy, like Curtiss, who call me on my bullshit and make me clarify my thinking.

Soundtrack for an Imaginary Movie

As an exercise:

  1. Fade in. Daytime, exterior. Distant aerial tracking shot with slow zoom on residential street. Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen.” Cut to interior of car.
  2. Daytime, interior. High school hallway between classes. Close handheld shot following _____. The New Pornographers, “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras.”
  3. Daytime, exterior. Empty bleachers at high school ball field. Face shots, dialogue. LL Cool J, “Going Back to Cali.”
  4. Evening, interior. Small bedroom. Overhead shot. Sly and the Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay.”
  5. Evening, exterior. Medium three-quarter traveling shot, from behind, of car on residential streets. David Essex, “Rock On.” Cut to interior of car.
  6. Evening, exterior. Medium overhead shot of car in empty parking lot. Firewater, “When I Burn This Place Down.” Cut to close overhead shot.
  7. Evening, exterior. Urban sidewalk in nightclub district. Close handheld shot following _____. Grace Jones, “Slave to the Rhythm.”
  8. Evening, interior. Nightclub. Distant overhead shot of crowded dance floor. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Cut to close handheld shot on dance floor.
  9. Evening, interior. Club bathroom, fluorescent lights. Medium shot at sink. DJ Shadow, “Stem / Long Stem / Transmission 2.”
  10. Evening, exterior. Narrow alley with dumpster. Side shot, medium distance, slow zoom. Knoc-Turn’al, “Muzik.” Cut to close handheld shot.
  11. Dawn, exterior. Urban sidewalk in nightclub district. Distant handheld shot, from front, following _____. Nouvelle Vague, “Guns of Brixton.”
  12. Daytime, exterior. Medium aerial tracking shot, slow zoom out, on residential street. Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain.” Fade to black and closing credits.


The Goldfarmer

Let’s imagine a hypothetical economy. It’s a bit of an odd economy, since it’s partly “virtual” and partly “real,” at least by conventional economic reasoning — but in a way, part of what I’m trying to show with this hypothetical example is that conventional economic reasoning’s binary of “virtual” versus “real” has inadequate explanatory force. Furthermore, that inadequacy carries strong implications for the economic aspects of students’ work in the composition classroom.

Note: a lot of the following might feel a lot more clear if read in the context of the excellent Cory Doctorow short story, “Anda’s Game.”

Let’s ground this hypothetical economy in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Everworld Galaxies of UltimaQuest. I write “ground” because the term “set” would imply that the economy is confined to the world bounded by the environment of EGOUQ, which — as will quickly become apparent — is not true: the game’s economy bursts the bounds of the “virtual” and spills over into the social “real.” And I know these scare quotes are gonna get irritating really quickly, but I hope you’ll bear with me: I’m using both terms, if I can be vulgarly Gallic, sous rature. Anyway: so we’ve got an economy, some aspects (we’ll call them “transactions”) of which take place in-game, others out-of-game. And the effects of those transactions cross that in-game/out-of-game boundary.

Read more

The Day

You and I went to the National Zoo. You couldn’t talk, so I’d brought pens and paper. It was a wet Spring day.

We parked in the lot near Rock Creek and walked across the bridge. We stopped, and I asked you where you wanted to go. You smiled and nodded, but you couldn’t talk.

You were dying. And you were losing your mind. You were so smart — your thesis on Hannah Arendt, your work on Proust and Gadamer and Joyce and Heidegger, your graduate degrees in Comparative Literature and Library Science and Management — and you made me want to be smart, to be like you, and you brought me home all those books. And then while you died it was cartoons and Andy Griffith while we funneled protein shakes into the tube that went into your belly. Because you were losing your mind and cartoons were what made you happy.

It was a wet, gray day. I asked you what animals you wanted to see. And I gave you the pen and the pad of paper and you were laughing at me in that silent way with your mouth open. And you wrote your answer and I remember the green of Rock Creek Park and the Zoo all around and you laughing because you were teasing me, because you were having fun with me, and you knew it. You gave me back the pen and the pad of paper.

BATS, it said.

And you laughed soundlessly when you saw me read it.

So we went and saw the bats.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.

Course Evaluations

Classroom exchange:

Me: “OK, we’re doing course evals for the first part of class today. Put down your answers to the questions, tell me what you thought about the class, what was useful about it, what wasn’t, what could be improved, what you thought about my teaching, what could be improved,” et cetera.

Particularly smart student: “Do our answers affect you?”

Me: “Sure. And I don’t see them until after final grades are in.”


Particularly smart student, holding back a grin, in that kind of I-dare-you half-ironic tone: “So what are we doing for the rest of class today?”

Me, airily: “I’m giving away free money. And beer.” Big smile.

Ideas Like Artichokes

Grump grump grump. I’m stuck at about the halfway point through the first draft of the final chapter — trying really hard to integrate open source practices with the rhetoric of the affective, trying really hard to figure out how to synthesize Benkler’s and Lindquist’s ideas of the personal dimensions of economic self-selection in the context of writing projects, and I know I need to write my way through it but right now it’s really huge and abstract and vague — so I’m switching gears and going back to previous chapters in heavy-duty revise revise revise revise revise revise revise revise revise mode (which I need to do anyway) in order to use that conceptual backtracking to shake loose the specifics of how I want to conclude.

I think one way I’m getting sidetracked is in wanting to explicitly contrast market-based economic approaches to open-source practices, and they’re not necessarily opposites or even all that opposed. My frustration, I think, comes from the ways in which laissez-faire free marketeers rhetorically construct markets as highly efficient self-organizing systems and then make the specious argumentative extension that all highly efficient self-organizing systems must be some species of market.

Nope. Doesn’t work that way, and folks who think it does clearly failed Logic 101 (and, yes, I’m aiming at a specific rhetorical target here, but I’m not willing to be much more specific until something I’ve got in the works sees publication): arguing that all schoolbuses are yellow is fine and good, but it does not mean that every yellow thing can be called a schoolbus. Open-source practices, as the work of Yochai Benkler indicates, can constitute highly efficient self-organizing systems, but that hardly means that they’re market-based systems — and the rhetorical invocation of the “marketplace of ideas” in economic argument is nothing more than the intellectually sloppy application of a bad metaphor: do you buy ideas like you buy artichokes?

Letters from Prison

David lets me know I owe him a letter, which I’ll send out to him on Monday. According to his third-generation paraphrase, the parole commissioner at the file review hearing said something like, “I seldom see a case like this that is as well thought out and deserving of immediate parole.” The parole hearing itself has been moved to June, and David writes, “I’ve been down nine years; another month won’t kill me.” Along with the letter, I’ve got a box of comic books packed to ship his way: he likes David Mack’s Kabuki and he’s curious about the direction Marvel’s X-books are taking, as craptacular as they’ve lately been, and I’m still trying to convince him that Brian Michael Bendis is turning into a solid writer, pacing issues aside.

David’s lately been doing that prison-stereotype work, pushing mowers on the highway median strip and weed-whackers by the guard rails. My friend Jason has dropped off David’s resume at a few places. David’s returning to a community where his crimes gained him considerable front-page notoriety, and that complicates matters. He wants to be a chef, he says; to eventually have his own restaurant.

I’m hopeful for him.

May Day

According to the good folks at Cornell, “a one-year-old cat is physiologically similar to a 16-year-old human, and a two-year-old cat is like a person of 21,” and “For every year thereafter, each cat year is worth about four human years.” By that math, Tink and Zeugma’s three-year birthday today makes them twenty-five in cat years. Tink’s celebrating by experimenting with the eject key on my computer’s keyboard; Zeugma is chattering at the chickadees, sparrows, titmice, and nuthatches who come to the back deck’s bird feeder.

How am I celebrating the day? Well, I’ve got a few options:

  1. Erect a large symbolic phallus in the back yard and get the neighbors to help me plait brightly colored ribbons around it in observance of Beltane’s celebration of the amorous act.
  2. Light a bonfire in the back yard commemorating the 1886 Haymarket Riot and celebrating the rights and contributions of workers (including immigrant workers) everywhere.
  3. Revise a dissertation chapter and work on my CCCC proposal.

Sigh. Yeah, it looks like I’m going with option 3. Which is not to say, however, that Julie Andrews singing Lerner and Loewe won’t make it onto the cd player at some point.

It’s May, the lusty month of May
That darling month when everyone throws self-control away
It’s time to do a wretched thing or two
And try to make each precious day one you’ll always rue

It’s May, it’s May, the month of ‘Yes, you may’
The time for every frivolous whim — proper or im-
It’s wild, it’s gay, a blot in every way
The birds and bees with all of their vast amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast
The lusty month of May