Month: August 2007

Starting Again

I taught my first class of the semester on Monday. It felt good — it always does — to be back in the classroom again. New semester, new duties, new responsibilities: the bureaucracy here is the temporal equivalent of a gas, expanding to fill the available time. Which means I don’t have much time for leisure reading, but I’m riding my bike to and from work when the weather permits, and getting up early (5:15) to do PT before going in around 7. I’m trying to do the job stuff when I’m at work — I got some good work done in the office this summer, helping out with a Kairos issue (I won’t mind at all if you tell me how cool that logo is, and — while certainly partial — I really like what Steve did with his article), submitting one article for publication, and working on another, plus two more to go — and leave it behind as much as possible when I come home in the evening, but I know with the first batch of papers to grade, that’ll change. Still, I’m feeling well-adapted: I was one of the lead people working on our FYC curriculum over the past year, so I’m somewhat satisfied with the way we’ve worked the syllabus, and have much more comfort with the mesh between my expectations and my institution’s expectations than I did last year — to be blunt, it’s been a bit of a battle, and I felt like I took some flak last year. This year, I know the ropes, I know the responsibilities, and I know how the cadets are. Again, I love the plebes — the freshmen — because of their openness, their willingness, and their enthusiasm, but it’s also interesting to me that the cows — the juniors — that I taught last semester are now back as firsties with full firstie privileges, so I’ll run into them in their civilian clothes when I’m in town running errands. I’ll be mentoring some cows for the Marshall and Rhodes scholarship applications, and I’m mentoring a senior as a part of a pilot academic advising program, and that feels good as well. So: a new start, and I’m hoping it’s a good one.

Seven Last Lines

Amanda at Household Opera has been thinking about literary endings, and has posted some of her favorites with invitations to guess. I think it’s too cool a game to pass up, so I’ll add my contributions, and offer my invitation as well: feel free to post your guesses in the comments, and consider yourself tagged to put up your own list of seven last lines, as well.

  1. “Am I?” Jesse said.
  2. Gold-glowing child, it steps into the sky and sends a birth-song slanting down gray dust streets and sleepy windows of the southern town.
  3. Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.
  4. She sat staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn’t begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light.
  5. No one watching this woman smear her initials in the steam on her water glass with her first finger, or slip cellophane packets of oyster crackers into her handbag for the sea gulls, could know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me and Sylvie.
  6. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.
  7. The cults of the famous and the dead.

Review and Response

Writing teachers often make use of a system whereby students write comments on one another’s papers, with those comments intended to help the student revise her writing. It’s a labor-saving pedagogical device, but when implemented carefully, it works well: students get a sense of how audiences read and respond to their writing, and revise accordingly. There is a name for this system.

Scholars who wish to share their insights make use of a system whereby their peers read and evaluate those insights and deem them worthy or unworthy for publication, and offer comments on those insights, with those comments intended to help the scholar revise her writing. It’s a labor-intensive academic practice, but our hope is that it keeps us honest: scholars revise, and only the best scholarship gets published.

While these two systems are similar, they are separate, and serve separate functions. However, there is a frequent tendency in our pedagogical and theoretical discourse to refer to both as “peer review.” I’d like to counter that tendency, because it too easily and conveniently elides the status differential between student writing and scholarly writing, and that status differential is something I’d like to see called into question. Mariolina Salvatori and Amy Robillard, among others, have already done substantial and significant work to make visible and problematize that status differential.

I think we need a more precise vocabulary that extends the work of Salvatori and Robillard and foregrounds the differences between those two systems in order to call into question that status differential. For that reason, I’d like to call our classroom work, wherein students read and respond to one anothers’ papers, “peer response,” and I’d like to call our scholarly work, wherein we review one anothers’ work for publication, “peer review.”

And I’d like to be a part of a conversation that discusses how we might productively blur those two terms.

Rescue Drama

I’ve finally caved in and turned on the air conditioning at home, and Tink and Zeugma are taking turns standing on the printer with their paws on the window sash and their bellies up to the cold air blasting from the window unit.

So this morning, I’m cleaning out cages in the cat room (warning: cheesy MIDI) with D., who’s another volunteer at the shelter, and K.’s the senior volunteer working in the dog room with N., when the phone rings. Ben and Annie, a ginger tabby and a big black and white, are following me around trying to jump into the cages I’m cleaning after I pull out the litter boxen and the newspaper and bedding, Peanut’s guarding my coffee cup, and Reba’s being a bitch and taking random swipes at me. And it’s mostly a quiet morning, not like the chaos with all the dogs excited and barking on Wednesday morning after one of theirs who’d gotten away from the volunteer walking her this weekend had been found in the woods and returned, with the barking getting the cats all freaked out and barfy and yowly and hissy and swatting at one another. The phone rings, and I hear K. pick up and talk briefly, asking questions, and then giving directions. A few minutes later, it rings again: more directions.

K. comes into the cat room, a little exasperated, cigarette in hand, running her other hand through her hair. “This guy,” she says. “This guy’s like driving around, saying he’s by the drug store, and I told him how to get here, and he says he can’t find us. The drug store’s on Main, right?” D. affirms this. “So he says he’s got a puppy he wants to drop off. Says he found this puppy by the side of the road last night and doesn’t know what to do with it. We’re not hard to find, right?”

A few minutes later, a third phone call, and shortly after that, I’m in the front room with the nervous cats — the ones who aren’t so good in the big room with the other cats — cleaning up plates of old food when I see a minivan pull up. I take the food plates back into the big room and put them in the sink, and D. and I are taking stock of what to do next when K. comes hurtling into the cat room with a little yellow rag cupped in her hands, her eyes wide. “What. The fuck. Is this?” she asks.

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Recuperating the Individual

In his chapter “Can Economics Start from the Individual Alone?,” Geoffrey M. Hodgson gives an account of how economics turned its attention as a discipline away from a systemic focus and toward the individual homo economicus as its sole starting point. As Hodgson describes it, within the span of a few decades, scholars in economics chose to make their topic the “allocation of scarce means between alternative uses, as a universal matter of choice for every individual in a world of scarcity. Instead of the whole system of production and allocation of the means of life, the choosing individual alone became the foundation stone of economic theory” (57). To the contrary, Hodgson proposes that “the isolated individual is not viable as an analytical starting point” (58), and I see in his argument some instructive parallels to the shift in philosophical emphasis that some in composition have called “the social turn.” One of the more widely recognized indicators of that social turn is James Berlin’s landscaping of the field, wherein scholars focusing on formal concerns were labeled current-traditionalists, others focusing on the mental processes of composing were labeled cognitivists, and those focusing upon the authorial choices of the composing individual were labeled expressivists, to whom Berlin counterposed social-epistemic rhetoric, with its examination and critique of the ways social structures and institutions construct knowledge and interpellate individuals into hegemonic ideologies.

Berlin sets up social-epistemic rhetoric as a strong critique of what he characterizes as expressivism’s focus on the authorial choices of the individual composer, indicting that focus as divorced from the social and thereby unable to engage in anything other than apolitical, disconnected writerly solipsism. So, too, does Hodgson see a shift in political economy toward an emphasis on the choosing individual, which his essay strongly critiques — but his critique takes a direction quite different from Berlin’s.

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