Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I am going through my things, books, CDs, photos, knick knacks--trying to figure out what I don't need. Aside from realizing that I have spent the majority of my life collecting ridiculous bits, I came across an old CD mix the other day. Years ago, when I was in my MA program, this boy that I knew gave me a mix. I don't remember why or if he gave it to others (mostly because those days are a haze of ethical dilemmas, Max-Alerts, bad decisions, and martinis), but I do remember the boy. I always suspected that he had a bit of a crush on me--but he wasn't my type. Nice, scientist, kinda skinny, very logical and quiet...

Anyway, I come across this old mix, and I listen to it. And I'm wondering if there was more to this mix than I ever imagined. My friend--whom I also knew back then--tells me that I am displacing. Imagining that there is more to this little conglomeration of songs (about love and beauty and heartbreak and temptation), instead of paying attention to details of the present. Regardless of my doubtful friend's psycho-analytic diagnoses, I imagine there was (there always is) alot more to that sweet, quiet med student than I ever noticed, maybe...

Either way, it's interesting (sad, a little, but interesting, too) to think about things we maybe miss... for whatever reason. Because we're young and stupid. Because we're swimming in martinis. Because we're distracted or disbelieving or angry.

I imagine that boy is well and still reads poetry. That he still listens to good music and has someone beautiful and kind to share his favorite songs with.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Some people like the Sopranos. Others are addicted to (and I mean they may need an intervention before too long) The Wire..

Either way, it's always good to know your Mob Nickname.

Seriously, people. Check it.

Dr. "The Hobo Clown" James

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Some More Reasons to Worry about the State of the World

Wide Web, that is.

I was just paging through some of my friends' bloglists, and I came across a blog about new media and rhetoric. The blogger, a professor at ECU, posted links to three different articles about women and the web--all of them about the psychotic threats received by different female bloggers. "Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers" is just one of them.

Now, honestly, I think Michelle Malkin is a racist, homophobic, classist waste of fashionable shoes. And I LOVE arguing with people who can bring it--this is why, this is why, this is why debaters are hot.

But (and you may call me old-fashioned, if you like) I don't think that the process of bringing it should include red herring, mean-ass death threats.

Another of my dear friends, who is currently working on a monumental tome about "Eyes on the Prize," was talking with me the other day about the portrayal of violence in discussions of the American civil rights movement. The tension between force used by the downtrodden and force used by the powers-that-be, she says, are clearly major concerns of those who document the history of civil rights heroes and martyrs. I mean, today at the gym, I was sort of watching some special (I did not catch the name of it) about black American heroes--the people buried in Arlington, memorialized on the Washington Mall, etc. Joe Louis was mentioned prominently, as was the first black man to become a four star general. Those violent black men were totally acceptable to American history and culture. But notsomuch with Fred Hampton and other Black Panthers murdered by the police. There is quite a bit of debate about the meaning of "free speech" and "appropriate use of force." Is it OK, for example, when the cops come to your door (unprompted and without PC) to meet them with the same kinds of weapons that they carry? How much political and social work gets done when protesters of various ilk get beaten on--again and again? When is it OK to turn the guns around?

These blog threats seem to demonstrate an intriguing (and techy) facet of that old chestnut--who gets to talk, what do they get to say, when, and why? It is a fucking shame, though, that the same people who are more likley to suffer physical mistreatment on the street are now getting mentally and psychologically abused by keyboard-bearing sadists. And add to that the physical potential of these threat, and we're not really so advanced as we think we are... regardless of increasing Internet-fu.

Makes me want to quit school and watch the "The Wire." Actually, most of the time I want to watch "The Wire," so these phenomena may not be causally linked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Three of My Favorite Things

1) TC's lounge in Austin, TX--a juke joint (for reals) where a bunch of sweaty people drink cheap beer, listen to yummy blues, and dance, dance, dance. Also, there's a crock pot full of good-ness (sometimes chicken-n-dumplings, sometimes chili--you get the idea).

2)The phrase "ass bucket"--invented (we think) by my sister in a fit of road rage.

3) Squinting at walls (i.e. Believing in good magick).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

I can stop anytime, really...

Just this one pair, and I am done for the summer.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Summer Time

Delicious confusion of Sundays
were the summers when we were small.
Hotsunset, hotsunrise…
Each day began with chlorine and frogs,
the crispness of early morning light failing under
the weight of smoldering Alabama afternoons.
The heavy, yellow smell of honeysuckle
followed us inside after every late night
game of hide-n-seek.

So, naturally, we would get the days confused.

Not that we were irresponsible.
We went to the birthday parties
of the girls and boys we didn’t like
because Mom and Grandmother said we should.
We were quiet in
all the Libraries—
it is important to walk softly on the cold tile,
to turn the rough-smelling pages carefully.
We were polite to the church ladies,
who wore pantyhose even on the hottest days in August—
we smiled and thanked them when they told us we were going to be just
as pretty as our Mama,
and just as smart as Daddy.

We were not irresponsible;
We just forgot the order of the year.
We did not read our calendars or check our due dates.
We did not schedule.

You and I were very good at summer.
Taking naps in the heat of the day—
Making mud stew in the backyard and trying to get the dog,
who was way too smart for that,
to eat it—
Gorging on slices of watermelon until our hands and faces were slick
With sticky, black seeds.
You would laugh then,
at the seeds on my forehead or neck,
giggling at my vain attempts to remove them without getting more juice in my hair.
And I would laugh, too,
because your baby giggles were contagious,
and because another endless summer night was just a few hours away.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

This song is for the philosophers

In this section, then, I define and diagram the argumentative construction of simulation—and the ways in which simulational arguments persuade. First, I provide several definitions of simulation, highlighting the two major elements of simulation (represent-ability and performativity). Next, I discuss the advent and progression of simulation—as seen in Jean Baudrillard’s theoretical exploration of the concept. Finally, I investigate the ways in which the arguments of a Simulated History are constructed, presenting different examples of Simulated History and introducing my particular case study (Civil War reenactment).

“Simulations are controlled representations of reality.” Simulations are cinematic, “prosthetic experience[s] of collective power… [or] collective desire.” Simulation is similar to, but different than, reality; it consists of
images… [that] depict or re-present realities but are not themselves realities. We usually know the difference. If an
image depicts a place we have visited or reminds us of something that once happened to us, or something we could
imagine happening, we call it realistic But that is still not “real.”
Simulation is an experiential laboratory, a research method establishing the difference between textual investigation and experiential data—a way of “rediscovering data that had been lost from traditional written and iconographic resources.” “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal… It is… the precession of simulacra…” In each of the previous definitions of simulation, the differences (and intersections) between simulation and representation are shady theoretical places to dwell.

Each of the above definitions plays with the fine lines between “real,” the “representation,” and the results of such a representation. The first definition, that simulations are controlled—comes from an old article about the uses and abuses of simulation in educational situations. A more philsophical conception of simulation often links it with concepts of virtuality, as in the second two definitions—simulation as a kind of experiential prosthetic (an observation made by Susan Buck-Morss, when she discusses the various political ideologies represented in cinematic simulations of Soviet and American identity), and simulation as a collection of “realistic” images (a definition proposed by Todd Gitlin in a discussion of over-mediated contemporary culture). The fourth definition, taken from a book about living history, touches on the notion of experience, as well—echoing both Ochoa (the educator) and Buck-Morss (the political theorist), Jay Anderson describes simulation as a valuable and experiential learning tool.

The final definition is taken from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation and is a more ontological description of simulation—placing simulation within the practices of culture, Baudrillard’s definition departs a bit from the others but still hits on the two main elements of simulation: represent-ability and performativity. Although there are many different definitions of simulation—across scientific, philosophical, and educational circles—a “notion that appears persistently is that simulations are representations of reality.” Another notion that appears in definitions and conceptions of simulation is ideas about performance and performativity. Simulation, then, is the performative process of re-presenting a real—when the real is some concept of “things as they are” or “things as they could be.” In these figures (things as they are or could be), the argumentative structure depends upon both the realistic power of representation—to demonstrate, realistically, some idea about the world being simulated. There must be a represent-ability to the real things being simulated, or the simulation will not convince. Second, simulation’s argumentative structure also depends upon the convincing power of performance—to experience, realistically, some idea about the world being simulated.

Simulation, a performative process of representing the real, gets used rhetorically in a variety of ways. As we see above, simulation is an educational tool—simulating controlled situations in the classroom is a classic pedagogical device used to place students in different environments. Simulation also works as a reasearch method—to fill in, as Anderson suggests, theoretical knowledge gaps with experiential information. These two uses of simulation demonstrate its persuasive, practical, performative power: simulation convinces (works) because it is practically and performatively applicable. The more theoretical definitions—exploring the cultural, cinematic, or technological reach of simulation—emphasize simulation’s representative power; in these definitions, simulation convinces (works) because it effectively re-presents the realistic and realist expectations of its audience. Whether the simulation occurs in a classroom environment (to teach students about the functioning of the stock market) or in a national identity (to teach citizens about the true purposes of democracy), simulations are persuasive.

Before I explore the argumentative dimensions of simulation, though, let’s investigate simulation as a cultural phenomenon. Jean Baudrillard, throughout his career, struggled to elucidate the connections between the cultural phases and philosophical facets of simulation. The basic definition of simulation, according to Jean Baudrillard, is that simulation was once the process of making a copy, a referential territory in which the symbol or thing being produced had some real relationship to that which it represented. Simulation has become, however, a symptom of the hyperreal: “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality… [a] map that precedes reality—precession of simulacra —that engenders the territory… It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there.” This definition of simulation, then, is twofold. First, it is a process. And second, it is argumentatively powerful because it plays upon the concept of the real—which is a powerful postulate—and because it allows for (requires? Cannot be without?) a multiplicity of meaning. In "Symbolic Exchange and Death," he introduces the notion of simulation as a progression; each step proceeded, he argues, further and further from the actual reality it seeks to represent. The problem with simulation is that it creates its own reality—and once it has created that reality, simulation becomes a representation of only itself. Simulation becomes more real than, more exact than, more perfect than, the real, and, in so doing, simulation usurps the real it purports to represent.

Baudrillard’s discussion of simulation and its stages changed throughout his life. At the earliest, he descibed them in this way:
1) Simulation stands in for reality
2) Simulation hides the absence of reality
3) Simulation produces its own reality

In "Simulacra and Simulation," Baudrillard introduces a fourth stage, the stage in which we currently find ourselves—the viral or fractal or simulacral stage. This stage stems from the third stage—a metamorphosis into the simulacral form. The orders of simulation are really a kind of ontological precession of reality—in that each step causes a regression overwhelming the relationship between reality and its others in the previous stages. Each stage eats the previous stage; this is the hyperreal. This is where simulation is so endemic, so big, that it’s eaten all the real before, and there’s really no way of getting back to the real.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Collective Memory warrants

Warrants for Collective Memory, at times directly opposed to Professional History, highlight the intersections between individuals and larger groups. While Professional History designs its arguments for a culture of specialists and Experienced History thrives in a culture of suspicion and sensation, Collective Memory must do a complicated (and impressive) little dance between these two ways of talking about the past. Because Collective Memory is an accumulation, on the one hand, of individual interpretations of the past, its warrants must demonstrate a faith in the culture of experience. On the other hand, though, Collective Memory must allow for the shaping, transformative power of collective interpretation on the words of the individual witness.

The culture of Collective Memory, then, is a culture in which the story of experience is placed at the forefront—but with a
difference. Here, the culture (and, thus, the warrants) works to create an environment of mutual culpability and necessary exclusivity. Like Experienced History, Collective Memory values individual testimony and strives to demonstrate the pertinence of the particular to the universal. However, like Professional History, Collective Memory must also abrogate the boundaries of historical interpretation; stories of individuals must pertain to, and help shape, the group’s historical interpretation. To that end, an exemplary claim about Collective Memory would look like this: Collective Memory tells stories about the past that otherwise go unheard. This claim, a basic one that often underlies many of the arguments presented by proponents and sharers of Collective Memory, reveals a culture of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion—because the grounds that support this claim are designed to demonstrate the line between Collective Memory and other, more official, ways to interpret the past. And the warrant, then, must justify the lines drawn between these historical accounts—as well as provide the reasoning for such a division. Here then, is a diagrammed argument for Collective Memory:

Claim: Collective Memory tells stories about the past that might otherwise go unheard.
Grounds: Official (read: professional and academic) histories often forget/omit/erase multi-voiced perspectives on the past.
Warrant: Collective Memory gives voice/power to the voiceless/powerless.

This argument construction places Collective Memory on the fine line between those who tell the stories and those who decide which stories to tell.

Each version of the past presents a certain ideological front; every historical account of every historical event provides an audience with a particular way to see the past. The warrants provided by Experienced History, Professional History, and Collective Memory are clues about those ideologies, and they are demonstrations of the cultures from which they come. But there are different ways to argue—and there are new ways to think about the culture of such arguments. In the next section of this chapter, I examine theories of simulation, suggesting two things: first, that we live in a simulational culture; and second, that living in such a simulational culture causes us to privilege simulational warrants.

And now for something completely different

Alright, this one's for my argument theorist homies. I'm trying to put together argument diagrams for different ways of talking about the past. These are the latest results of those attempts (thank you, Tootsie Roll Pops). Collective Memory soon to come...

Warrants, cultural litmus tests that they are, reveal more than just the arguments they inhabit—they are also capable of showing critics the underlying assumptions of claims, as well as the structure and connections between differing grounds used to prove those conclusions. In the previous chapter, I examine the argumentative structure of Experienced History, Professional History, and Collective Memory, and as I talk about each of the rhetorics, I discuss the ways in which they formulate their arguments—as well as the reasons why those arguments are rhetorically believable. The discussion of warrants in this chapter, though, begs a question: what do the warrants in the previous three rhetorics look like? At this point in the project, it would be beneficial to name explicitly some of the warrants under girding Experienced History, Professional History and Collective Memory—in order to compare and contrast them with some of the warrants we might see in a simulational culture, or a Simulated History.

Warrants live in between claims proposed and the grounds provided. The three dimensions of each history (Materiality, Perspective, and Practitioners) are composed of all sorts of different, interwoven claims, warrants, and grounds. For the sake of space and parsimony, I will dissect one aspect of each rhetoric—naming and labeling the claim, the grounds, and the warrant (or warrants) used to connect each claim with its corresponding grounds. I choose each argument specifically—because it reveals some major, underlying claim of each rhetoric. Moreover, each of the arguments diagrammed displays an aspect of the culture in which that argument (and its warrants) thrive. I begin with Experienced History.

Experienced History, because it is based so much in the rhetoric of the body, bases most of its claims on the indivisibility of sense and sense-making. The arguments of Experienced History grow in a culture of suspicion; the desire to hear and believe stories of Experienced History springs from vague distrust of historically official institutions (like the White House or the Ivory Tower). In such a culture, credibility occurs in generalizable, familiar, bodily stories—tales with which everyone can relate.

To tell a story of experience, then, one must possess and express some intimate, tangible interaction with a historical event. Therefore, a claim made by Experienced History is this: Personal stories are both universal and individual. Such a claim might further be modified to include a specific example—like trauma or heartbreak. In the first chapter, I explore the rhetorical links between, say, the testimony of a body and descriptions of suffering or trauma. The grounds used to support such a claim, that personal stories are simultaneously universal and individual, vary from moment to moment. In one instance, the grounds might be a sympathetic appeal—something like, we all know what it is to be heartbroken—issuing from the lips of a melancholy singer/songwriter onstage. Or, at another point, the same grounds might be provided by a scientist explaining the latest advances in emotional and palliative care for a bereaved widow. Or, these grounds might emerge from a student attempting to negotiate a more forgiving testing environment. Each of these grounds is used to support the “bodies are believable” claim proposed by Experienced History.

Now, in order to make the inferential leap between such a claim and the grounds provided by each arguer, we need a warrant. The warrant, connecting claim and grounds, must demonstrate that heartbreak is, in fact, a universal (and individual) experience—and it must be believable. I propose that warrant might look like this: we believe our own bodies, so we must believe others as well. Here is the argument put together:

Claim: Personal stories are both universal and individual.
Grounds: We all know what it’s like to experience heartbreak.
Warrant: Individual bodies (our own) are to be believed, therefore so must other bodies be believed.

The warrants of Experienced History, occasionally mentioned but often unspoken, look like this. They must connect the individual to the general—and prove that certain specific events and understanding are generalizable to more than the moment in which they occur.

Professional History warrants look a little bit different because the culture in Professional History lives is distinctly (and purposefully) separate from the everyday experiences of individuals. The claims of Professional History depend upon, as I mention in the first chapter, the notion that certain, specially trained individuals are best prepared to make observations about the past. The primacy of writing, the possibility of (and desire for) objectivity, and the importance of disciplinization all lend to Professional History’s claims about the past. Whereas Experienced History places its credibility in the shared/sympathetic understanding that bodies everywhere act or feel similarly, the arguments of Professional History attempt to diminish this universalizing push. Control, specialization, and particularity are the bywords of History as Discipline. So, for example, a claim made by Professional History might be: “History should be done by professionally trained experts.” This claim works to sharpen the lens of historical observation at the same time that it grants believability to a certain group—the only group capable of either correctly using (or interpreting correctly) the information gleaned from such a directed inspection of the past.

The grounds used to support such a claim must demonstrate that this group of experts does, in fact, observe the past correctly. Sounding the call of academics and scientists everywhere (Professionally trained experts draw correct, objective conclusions about the area for which they are trained), these grounds work to do two things. The first thing that they do is make correct and objective desirable; the second thing that they do is create a space (a specific area of training) in which being correct and being objective are both possible and almost the same. Such a claim, supported by data that makes the possibility of objectivity automatically correct, would best be connected by two warrants. Here is Professional History’s argument diagrammed:

Claim: History should be done by professionally trained experts.
Grounds: Professionally trained experts draw correct, objective conclusions about the areas for which they are trained.
Warrant 1: Professional training equips people for correct/objective observations about the world (or field of study).
Warrant 2: Objectivity is the most correct way to observe the functioning of world events.

The warrants for Professional History’s claims work to make the space of historical study smaller and smaller. The focus on training, the focus on discipline, the focus on control—each of these claims are bolstered and made possible by warrants in which specialization and training are highlighted, to the exclusion of all other kinds of historical investigation. To build a case for specialists and members of the discipline, warrants for Professional History emphasize the particularity of skills required to interpret history correctly.

An Ode to Tootsie Roll Pops

I have recently discovered that Tootsie Roll Pops are a wonderful device for invention. I sit. I suck on a pop. I ponder. I type. Especially the red ones--they are very good for dissertation. I think it may have something to do with the fact that they are not just one, but TWO! kinds of candy. And because there is something about Tootsie Roll Pops that promises an ending. A good one. Because after I sit and ponder and type (all the while gnawing on a pop), I eventually get to the delicious chewy center. Ahhh, guaranteed and tasty satisfaction... may that be a metaphor for all of our projects.