My Homework

The semester is underway, with lesson 2 of 40 taking place tomorrow. We had our academic convocation this afternoon, which was a pleasant enough ceremony in the Dean’s and Superintendent’s reminders that academic endeavor is of first importance in what we do. The need for such a reminder likely seems odd to those familiar with the environment of higher education, but here there are some who are occasionally eager to emphasize Sparta at the expense of Athens.

This semester I’m teaching EN101, our first-year composition course, and our course director has selected a new course reader. To increase our familiarity with the selections from the reader and our familiarity with one anothers’ interests and professional styles, and perhaps also to help remind us of what it is we’re asking our students to do, he assigned us homework: each member of the EN101 faculty was asked to choose one selection from the reader and write a two-to-three page summary and response essay. (I think assigning teachers to write at least one essay similar to what students are doing before the semester gets underway is a pretty good idea: I like that our course director did it, and wound up learning something valuable.) Two to three pages is not a lot of space, and I didn’t particularly cover myself in glory in what I wrote for the assignment: I’ve assigned summary and response essays in the past, and it’s not the most fair thing to ask of a student, since the genre almost demands that they respond with something fairly simple and basic.

That’s what I came up with, at least. This is some of the poorest writing I’ve done in a while; not really interesting or even original, with over-used analogies and recycled truisms that are likely familiar to most of us. I guess the thing I’m least unhappy with is the organizational device or trope, but even that is a bit of a gimmick. Why post this, then? For one, it’s a way to get me started blogging again after far too long a dry spell; for another, it’s a way to remind myself to carefully consider what I’m asking students to do, and what I expect them to get out of the assignments they complete. I’m not assigning a summary and response to my students this semester, and I’ll think hard before I do so again.

(And yes, it’s even got five paragraphs. Gah! What the hell is wrong with me?)

Cursus Imperii

In the Romantic view of Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole, civilization proceeds from an idealized “Savage State” and to a desolated version of that state ultimately returns. For Cole, as for Jos

“Authenticity” as Last Refuge of the Lazy

I was intrigued to see two abiding concerns of compositionists rolled into one in the recent controversy over Helene Hegemann’s plagiarized/remixed novel Axolotl Roadkill. There’s the usual breast-beating and hair-tearing and garment-rending about these kids today from the usual choristers, but what I thought was interesting was the use of the trope of authenticity in service of defending representing someone else’s writing as one’s own. Hegemann, in her own defense, asserted that “There

The Clear Use of Sources

I’m looking at a quotation that I don’t know what to do with: it’s confusing me. I ask you, reader, to help explain it to me; to help me figure out how the author is using a particular source. Here’s the quotation, in context, from pages iii-iv of the Preface by Marshall Sahlins to The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual:

As deconstructed in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual, the applied anthropology of the US Military may be described something as follows: a planetary strategy of research and destroy, involving the deployment of armed and largely culturally-illiterate American forces from among the thousand or so garrisons now distributed on foreign soil, sometimes complemented by second rate mercenary academics, all charged with an investigation of the cultures of the local peoples sufficient to determine if and how they can be subjugated or, failing that, taken out.

Here is anthropology as a weapon in dubious battles, as the critics rightly claim. For as it is put by a certain Lt. Colonel cited in the counterinsurgency manual:

“There will be no peace… The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To these ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. We are building an information-based military to do that killing.”

But then, whose side are you on, Petraeus? Although the counterinsurgency manual pretends to be based on up-to-date social science, it lacks the critical reflexivity of the latter, since what it dare not address is the Americans’ own presence as an invading and occupying power.

My question is about that “There will be no peace” quotation that goes up to “killing”: how is Sahlins using it? What’s the purpose? There seem to me to be several problems with the quotation. First, the “certain Lt. Colonel” is never cited in the counterinsurgency manual: the quotation comes from a xenophobic 1997 editorial piece by the then-Major Ralph Peters, published quite clearly not as scholarship but as opinion, and in its content clearly superannuated by the work that went into the counterinsurgency field manual. If we are to believe that authors work with a sincere commitment to the words they write, that work strikes me as creditable, and should in no way be related to the execrative fustian offered by Peters ten years earlier.

So: the material leading up to the quotation says some nasty things about the military and about the authors of the field manual, and about the intentions of its authors in using anthropological scholarship. The material following the quotation directly addresses General David Petraeus, who directed the authorship and publication of the Field Manual that Sahlins critiques.

Why, then, does Sahlins use a quotation (itself not cited at all in the Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual: I found the Peters source via Google) from an author he doesn’t name? Is this guilt by association? Is there an implied equivalency between the opinions of the author of an editorial piece and military doctrine? If so, how is the quotation supposed to relate to General Petraeus? Should we understand from the way the quotation is positioned that General Petraeus is to be held to account for the opinions of the now-retired Peters? In sum: what are we to understand as the intended relation of the Peters quotation to FM 3-24?

Cops in a Bar, Overheard

“This guy, he was all busted up. He was all upset about this cat. He was going on about the ASPCA. So he goes away, he gets on his cell phone.

I took out my weapon, I shot that cat eight fuckin times. Blam blam blam! Like that. It was fuckin awesome.

I threw it in the fuckin woods. My captain didn’t even give me any shit about it. He was OK.”

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.

Academic Category Error

People in my academic discipline sometimes conflate “military” and “war.” From what I’ve seen of the broader scape of academe, that’s not uncommon. In listserv discussions, interactions at conferences, calls for proposals, and hallway conversations, there’s a common assumption that any association with the military must commit one to a monolithic and intolerant ideology supporting all war, always, in all contexts.

Two nights ago, on Monday, Eugene Jarecki showed up on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart promoting his new book. (Jarecki wrote and directed the award-winning 2005 documentary Why We Fight, which — while voluminously researched and attempting to provide the appearance of scrupulous fairness — mostly did a very good job for 99 minutes of proving that Jarecki agreed with the cautions offered in Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” speech: to paraphrase a number of critics, the movie was an op-ed piece, not investigative reporting.) He had some good things to say about today’s links between the defense industry and American foreign policy, and with Stewart’s prompting and assistance, he made a number of solid points fully and clearly in the nine minutes or so that he had.

Stewart’s a breezy interviewer, and I think Jarecki would have fared better with a more deliberate pace, perhaps even with being asked to read a passage from the book out loud, NPR-style, though that seldom plays well on television. (Would that it did.) I say this because Jarecki was invited here to West Point to talk to people — cadets and faculty — about his movie after its release, and accounts of those conversations have traveled, some of them making their way into his new book, and some of them making their way into our Dean’s annual address to faculty — all faculty, military and civilian — where I first heard them two months ago. I quote here from Jarecki’s book, The American Way of War, published ten days ago:

Located in wooded isolation some 50 miles north of New York City, West Point is very much in its own intellectual orbit, not entirely removed from the workings of the American defense establishment, yet not entirely in sync with them either. On my first drive there, I recall the incredulity with which friends and family reacted when I called from the road to tell them where I was going. They were surprised that a military academy would even show a film like Why We Fight, let alone invite a self-acknowledged critic of U.S. defense policy, to address its best and brightest.

As it turns out, this incredulity reflects a prejudice that sweepingly and mistakenly equates bad foreign policy with those entrusted to implement it. While soldiers come in all types and no single generalization can be made, one finds inspiring abundance on West Point’s faculty of responsible thinkers who feel a responsibility not only to train their cadets in the military arts but to educate them more broadly about the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s foreign policy system.

Jarecki’s words are a careful and instructive counter to the myopic conflation I describe above. When our Dean read those words, and conveyed them to the faculty with an argument about their importance, they helped me see something more about teaching at this place, and about why I’m teaching here and want to continue to teach here. The engagement with diverse and critical perspectives that Jarecki describes is something I’ve seen here far more than at any other college or university I’ve attended or taught at, and seen especially with a remarkable openness in the classroom.

It’s remarkable the things cadets are unafraid to say and the criticisms they’re unafraid to make, reasonably and professionally, and how calmly and precisely they’re able to disagree with one another on loaded issues, and then think nothing of it and move on to celebrate and support one another. (Mostly.) In my class, they’ve just finished a unit on multi-modal argument, with more than a few of them giving presentations on similar or identical topics in rapid succession, and the kaleidoscope of perspectives has been refreshingly more wide-ranging than some of the homogeneous arrays of ideological and rhetorical commonplaces I’ve seen elsewhere. And in many ways more liberally accepting; more embracing of what Benjamin Franklin called “all these scatter’d counsels.” That ideological diversity and tolerance strikes me as one of the most valuable assets that a democratic nation might promote in its military, and one that I wish I might see more of in academe’s broader scape.

Palin’s Resemblance

Slate culture editor Meghan O’Rourke nails it, in as apt an analogy as I’ve seen: Sarah Palin is a character from a George Saunders short story. If you’ve read Saunders’ fiction, you know exactly what O’Rourke’s talking about; if you haven’t, Saunders writes a world shaped by the brand-name overconsumption, with its inhabitants tragicomically resigned and adapted to the dictatorial regime of consumerism. In O’Rourke’s words, Palin “buys into a whole vocabulary of signifiers that often don’t signify very much, and she scaffolds that lexicon with winks, smiles, and carefully mimed gestural reinforcement.”

It’s an attractive, pleasant, carefully calibrated empty clockwork face. That’s what I’d say I saw last night.

All In

Watched the Olympic opening ceremonies, and I’m amazed. It’s like China pushed its economic and public relations chips — its whole pile — to the center of the table, and said, “All in.”

Kairos CFP: dot mil

Here’s part of my excuse for not posting much lately. Alexis and I are pretty excited about it. And I might be soliciting some of you, dear readers, for contributions.

Call for Proposals

Kairos Summer 2010 Special Issue
dot mil: Rhetoric, Technology, and the Military
Guest Editors: Mike Edwards and Alexis Hart

This special issue of Kairos seeks to investigate the intersections between technology, rhetoric, and the military, as well as the connections between the military and literacy instruction. During World War II, College English published four articles (February 1944, May 1944, March 1945, May 1945) explicitly concerned with connections between literacy instruction in higher education and the contemporary military. Today, in a time of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and anxieties about military action in Iran, such connections merit renewed attention. Furthermore, advances in communications technologies have complicated those connections. ARPANET, the first packet-switching network and direct predecessor to the global internet, went live as a Department of Defense project in 1969, and the intersection of networked rhetorics and military affairs has evolved in intriguing ways since. For example, email, web video, cell phones, video games, weblogs, and other digital technologies have become increasingly available as well as increasingly controversial within military contexts. For this special issue on rhetoric, technology, and the military, examples of possible topics of investigation might include, but are not limited to:

How soldiers’, sailors’, airmen’s, and Marines’ access to 24/7 networked communications technologies has changed the rhetoric of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Online alternative news sources and their influence on public perceptions of conflicts.
How digital technologies complicate concerns of operations security (OPSEC).
The Army’s ban on weblogging by soldiers without command approval.
The rhetorics and aesthetics of military-themed video games.
Distance learning for deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
The use of just war theory, torture, protest, and other military-related subjects as topics for argument essays in first-year writing courses.
Corporal Pat Tillman and the public uses of the rhetorical canon of memory.
The rhetoric of PowerPoint in command briefings.
The use of netwar strategies by insurgency groups and conventional military organizations.
Media representations of the ethics and rhetoric of the “revolt of the generals.”
The rhetoric of recruiting.
Online “swiftboating” and the place of military service in political rhetoric.
The rhetorical framing of conflict in documentaries and news reports, as well as in first-hand accounts from on-the-ground warfighters.

Submission Guidelines:

For this special issue, we seek submissions for all sections of the journal (Topoi, Praxis, Reviews, Interviews, and Disputatio). We ask that contributors visit current and previous issues to determine which section best matches your work.

Topoi: Extended scholarly analyses related to the special issue theme.
Praxis: Longer classroom spotlights and brief digital tool-use narratives related to the special issue theme.
Reviews: Individual or collaborative reviews of books, media, and other texts of interest related to the special issue theme.
Interviews: Interviews with scholars doing work related to the special issue theme.
Disputatio: Short digital texts that invite or incite further commentary. This section operates like letters to the editor in more traditional journal venues; however, these texts take native digital forms, even if rudimentary in nature.

Additional Guidelines:

Please consult general submission guidelines at http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/cfht.html.
Kairos can accept most web-ready file formats (check with the guest editors if you are unsure). Please keep in mind that this excludes word-processing documents.
We prefer URLs for review purposes. If you do not have access to open (or password-protected) webspace, please contact the guest editors in advance of the submission deadline to arrange alternate means of delivery.
We cannot accept email attachments larger than 2 megabytes (MB).
Queries to the guest editors are welcome in advance of the deadline. (Responses may take up to a week.)

Submission Deadline (Proposals): November 1, 2008

Contact both guest editors with a proposal via email. (Subject line: “dotmil submission: YOURNAME”.) The proposal should include a 1-2 paragraph explanation of the webtext’s topic and argument; a 1-2 paragraph description of the webtext’s structure, design, and associated technologies (including a URL and/or images, if authors wish); and a brief annotated bibliography. Authors will receive confirmation of submission, via email, within 2-3 days.

Publication Timeline:

Proposals due: November 1, 2008
Acceptance notification: December 1, 2008
Full webtexts due: March 1, 2009
Revised webtexts due: October 1, 2009
Publication date: May 15, 2010

Huckabee’s Paralipsis

Congratulations are apparently in order to Mr. Huckabee, both for his win in Iowa and for his familiarity with the classical rhetorical figures. While I’m not in a position to say anything about Mr. Huckabee’s forthrightness or his politics, it was at least amusing to see him on December 31 taking advice more than 2,000 years old:

Occultatio est cum dicimus nos praeterire aut non scire aut nolle dicere id quod nun maxime dicimus, hoc modo: …”Non dico te ab sociis pecunias cepisse; non sum in eo occupatus quod civitates, regna, domos omnium depeculatus es; furta, rapinas omnes tuas omitto.” Haec utilis est exornatio si aut ad rem quam non pertineat aliis ostendere, quod occulte admonuisse prodest, aut longum est aut ignobile. Rhetorica ad Herennium IV.xxvi.37

In Harry Caplan’s 1954 translation:

Paralipsis occurs when we say that we are passing by, or do not know, or refuse to say precisely what we are now saying, as follows: … “I do not mention that you have taken monies from our allies; I do not concern myself with your having despoiled the cities, kingdoms, and homes of them all. I pass by your thieveries and robberies, all of them.” This figure is useful if employed in a matter which it is not pertinent to call specifically to the attention of others, because there is advantage in making only an indirect reference to is, or because the direct reference would be tedious and undignified.

Mr. Huckabee, it would seem, knows his pseudo-Cicero, although I’m not quite as inclined as the New York Times is to call his recent performance in telling reporters that he would not air his negative ad about Mr. Romney (and then showing them the ad he wouldn’t air) “remarkable,” unless it’s in his savvy deployment of paralipsis / occultatio / praeteritio by proxy. However, it did get me into an interesting discussion with a colleague of what the device is actually called. You’ll notice that Harry Caplan takes the Greek term paralipsis as a translation for the Latin occultatio, which is what my colleague wanted to call what Huckabee did, with the emphasis on hiding or obscuring. I had always understood the figure to be referred to as praeteritio, though, with the emphasis (as in pseudo-Cicero’s infinitive praeterire) on ostensibly passing something by, which seems more appropriate to the quoted examples.

So I’m left with a distinction that maybe isn’t a difference. I think paralipsis works fine as a catch-all term for the general practice of saying something by saying we’re not going to say it, but I kinda like the fine-grained distinction we see in the Ad Herennium between saying something by obscuring it (occultatio) and saying something by passing it by (praeteritio). Are they two different things?

And if so, which is the more appropriate term for what Mr. Huckabee did?