Monthly Archives: June 2006

Dissertation Debris

Friday cat blogging:

orange cat on desk

Night. In my work area, Tink knows where to recline: atop 222 pages of committee-submitted dissertation. She’s idly pawing at the thumb drive that holds my backup copy.

2 cats under skylight

Day. The other side of the office. Again, Tink’s got the paw out. Zeugma grooms herself between my empty reading rack, my full to-do file, and some photocopied essays on class, along with Benkler’s “Coase’s Penguin” and Gibson-Graham’s A Postcapitalist Politics.

Form, Space, and Synchronicity

Shelly at UFO recently raised some really interesting points about length and form and how we manage/regulate information and attention in texts. As powerful a template as the five-paragraph theme may be, Shelly suggests that it’s only useful up to a certain length, and I’m inclined to agree. As a template for writers, the five-paragraph theme makes the question of form-as-organization one less thing a struggling writer has to worry about. But for readers, once you get up over 800 or 900 words, the five paragraph theme no longer offers much help navigating the essay’s form-as-coherence.

A couple days later, Spencer pointed out a discussion of the relation between coherence, the form of the five-paragraph theme, and students’ attention to other aspects of writing. And again, the implicit argument in the passage Spencer points to seems to be that the five-paragraph theme is a tool for managing the resources of attention. For me, seeing Shelly’s and Spencer’s posts within the space of two days was an interesting bit of synchronicity that got even more interesting when I read Peter Elbow’s latest (June 2006) CCC essay on “The Music of Form: Rethinking Organization in Writing” in conjunction with the preface to Richard Lanham’s 2006 The Economics of Attention. For one thing, you’ve got to love Peter’s reference to the five-paragraph theme as “a kind of ‘slam bam thank you ma’am’ organization” (632). But to be a bit more serious: in The Economics of Attention, Richard Lanham begins with the assertion that “information is not in short supply in the new information economy” (xi). Rather, “what we lack is the human attention to make sense of it all” (xi). We don’t have enough time to devote to all this information and sort it out. Like our students, we as teachers “are short of time” (Elbow 631). And time and attention are central concerns for Elbow.

Now: one more connection to add to the pile. According to Elbow, “the most common way that writers bind words and pull readers through a text” is in narrative (634).

In 2001, I wrote a review essay called “The Ends of Narrative Inquiry” for a methods seminar and wound up being entirely too proud of myself for what I saw as my own stylistic

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On Error

I’m looking for good sources on student error in writing to share with a colleague. Joseph Williams on “The Phenomenology of Error” is an obvious choice, but I’d also like to share a piece that condenses Mina Shaugnessy’s extended point in Errors and Expectations about how the incidence of error goes up as students learn new concepts — in other words, how error itself can be an indication of learning. I remember reading a shorter piece (was it one of Bartholomae’s, maybe?) that made this argument, with some data to back it up, but don’t recall what it was. Help me out?

3 Years and 12 Days

I started this weblog with the explicit intent of using it to help me write through my dissertation. Three years and twelve days later, I’m just about there, having gone through multiple revisions of Chapters 1-5 with my advisor and finally, today, having given the other two committee members their first full look at the results of those revisions. No, it’s not done yet, but aside from one more go-through with my advisor on Chapter 5 and the suggestions the other two committee members give me, I’m almost there. And given the nature of the comments I’ve already seen from those members on Chapters 1-3, it feels like my advisor’s a pretty good judge of when something’s ready to go.

Another good sign is that I met with my outside reader today and she was enthusiastic about Chapters 1-3, with some extremely useful and informative suggestions. And in the middle of the meeting, she noted that the very recent work by scholar X would seem to be the logical next step in helping me to extend my own research, and of course scholar X’s very recent work is right at the top of my post-defense summer reading pile. (The book is my reward to myself for getting through this, and it’s a nice sign to me that a prominent scholar in another discipline would share my impulse about who my work aligns me with.)

And, finally, I have a strong and definite plan for what my next three essay-length publication projects are after the defense, taking me into late spring of next year, and loose ideas for two projects after that. So yeah. Stuff’s coming together.

Now I just gotta get through buying that house and moving. . .

My Date

July 7, 2006, at 2:30 in the afternoon. 316 Bartlett Hall.

(Click on the image for a bigger version.)

And yes, that would be me in the stainless-steel boob-cups.

So yeah, it’s a wig. Big deal. I mean, you know me, right? You know I’m bald. Can I be not embarassed now and just admit that, you know, sometimes I like to have hair?

The Poor Complain

In an odd bit of synchronicity, I stumbled across this quoted fine bit of bitter doggerel from 1981 Nobel Laureate in Economics James Tobin in two different places today. I’m thinking it might make a nice epigraph for my introductory talk at my dissertation defense.

The poor complain; they always do
But that’s just idle chatter
Our system brings reward to all
At least all those who matter.

Study Break

I can’t stop watching this video. Kitten, computer, cuteness: dear reader, it’s like happy YouTube crack, with fur.

Kitty kitty!

And I love the kitten’s tiny thin-furred rat-tail. Somewhere in the Atlantic Northeast, my attorney — who has a similarly-endowed skinny-tail cat named Bird — is smiling.