Month: December 2008

Black Watch

So it’s four o’clock in the morning and I just got back from the absolute best piece of theater I’ve ever seen in my life. Tonight was the penultimate night of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, and my date and I were amazed. Brilliant, far more physical than any other play I’ve seen, and an amazing combination of soldier humor, startling violence, and pathos. Parts of it were shocking, and parts of it made my eyes tear up a bit, and by the end, hearing that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo made something tighten in my chest. Reader, if you haven’t seen it, hope for an encore tour. See it, see it, see it.

Part of the reason it caught my attention was the intersection of matters military with my family’s Scottish heritage, which is a distant link, certainly (and one roundly mocked in the play), but there was also the memory of being very, very young and having the vinyl “Black Watch War Pipe and Plaid” as one of my parents’ albums that I loved the most, with — again — that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo. It stirs the blood.

And after the play ended, as snowy and cold as the Brooklyn weather was, I was lucky to have such an extraordinarily pretty woman on my arm. It was a good date.

Last Day of Classes

The President came to visit campus yesterday, along with three Chinooks’ and two Sikorsky VH-3Ds’ worth of Secret Service and support staff, so classes were canceled and we dropped a lesson, making today the last class for two of my composition sections.

On the first day of the semester, I had my students do something called “the envelope exercise,” adapted from an exercise one of my grad school colleagues came up with: first, I gave an empty envelope to everyone in class. We read, out loud, two paragraphs from Peter Elbow on freewriting and how to do it. I then asked them to fill in the endings of the following sentences, in as much depth and detail as possible, on a piece of paper. I wouldn’t see what they wrote.

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Chiasmus: Surveillance, Power

I got word that my Computers and Writing 2009 proposal was accepted, but I’ve been hesitant to blog about it, for reasons that may be apparent in my proposal, which follows in slightly paraphrased form.

My proposed presentation poses as its problem the environment of pervasive computer-enabled surveillance at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The problem is both practical, in the labor and logistics associated with the ubiquitous application of technologies of surveillance, and ethical, in my concern that ubiquitous surveillance may inhibit the development of the risk-taking thinkers essential to the Army’s mission. The presentation theorizes possible responses, contrasting the writing of political philosopher Leo Strauss and Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus on writing and domination. Finally, the presentation offers suggestions for how those responses might be enacted at West Point, and possible implications for other institutions.

At West Point, Web surfing is monitored, and spiders crawl the web for any mentions of the Academy, with mentions sent to the chain of command. (Interestingly, the Academy writing program endorses the use of digital technologies in the classroom, following the lead of the Academy’s general embrace of digital technologies.) Such a seemingly contradictory context requires a rhetorical response that moves beyond crude applications of Foucault’s “unequal gaze.”

I pose two alternatives for such a response: first, using the analysis of simultaneously esoteric and exoteric texts suggested by Leo Strauss in Persecution and the Art of Writing, and second, using the perspectives implied by Tacitus in his Dialogus de Oratoribus wherein authors intentionally place their meaning sous rature in ways that deliberately challenge hermeneusis depending upon interpretive context. Both writers suggest the possibilities of texts that can be interpreted in opposite ways by different audiences, depending on all parties’ positions of relative power within the rhetorical situation. However, I argue that Tacitus’s accounts implicitly offer the possibility of a counter-imperial micro-politics of resistance to the combination of domination and surveillance. The presentation then explores ways to enact that possibility of resistance in ways that open up opportunities for rhetorical risk-taking without compromising military missions, principles, or hierarchies.

And that’s it for the proposal, which I know will make the crawls come Monday morning, and which my bosses will see. (Hi, sir!) That’s enough for some nervousness on my part. But I’ve also been thinking that a blog entry — this one, for instance — is really the only way I can frame the project (after all, the conference program’s going to be indexed at some point) without making the presentation into some sort of rhetorical ambush. So I feel like there’s a whole lot of stuff in here: about classroom pedagogy, first and certainly, and about theories of rhetoric, but there’s the back-text as well, the usually unsaid except in my explicit invocation of it, about professionalism and what it means to talk about your job. (I don’t think I’m saying anything bad, but some might suggest I’m better off not saying anything at all.)

We’ll see.

My Theoretical Apparatus

Can I show you it?

It deals with the day-to-day immediacy of lived experience qua experience, mediated through writing and particularly understood as the economic activity of immaterial production, appropriation, circulation, ownership, and use, and through use back into production. As such, it deals with the process of producing or composing (or recomposing) and circulating and consuming (or interpreting) signs.

I’ve decided to call it Phenomenological-Economic Semiosis Theory.