Thursday, October 5, 2017


So I foolishly agreed to teach Foundations of Rhetoric this fall, and it has been a semester of discovery. In honor of my Foundations learning, I have classified this entry in five ways: Invention, Arrangement, Delivery, Style, and Memory.

I haven't written anything in a while. I feel like the opposite of Q in Wonder Boys, "I am not a writer." Whence the invention, I wonder. Or the desire. L is always talking about writing. As is E. They do it better than I do--both the talking and the doing. The rhetoric of it is more in their practice than in mine. Since Daddy got super sick, I have been slow about writing or reading anything challenging. But that might not be the foundational reason of it, I know. The invention is the thing. Hence the whence.

It used to be there, but maybe that was because it was a force from the outside. The ancients argued about these things, as well. I mean, out loud, of course. They were writers.

The still bleeding wounds of the ancient traumas between rhetoric and philosophy amaze me. Reading Conley's Rhetoric in the European Tradition whilst also reading Demelza and Poldark in Winston Graham's Poldark series is a funny sort of arrangement; the arts of the past and the romantical practicalities nestled up, close and cuddly. Conley does a good job of arranging the situations--demonstrating the rhetorical constructions up and against the historical constructions in a sort of academic bas relief. It makes me wonder how much is possible to include in the class discussion--how much to arrange, how much to compare, how much to collude with the past in this very Western pattern of thought.

In my notes about English rhetorics in the Renaissance, I wrote, "[Thomas] Wilson proves that you can be a Protestant and not a Ramist. Yay!" Yay, indeed. Nobody likes you, Peter. Shame about the massacre.

Speaking of what and how to convey the messages of these complicated pasts and passed complications, I got called a hot dog vendor by my student the other day. He was very passionately arguing that he pays for classes, and, therefore, he should get what he paid for. Like a hot dog. This conversation happened before we got to the Renaissance, in many ways. I do not think he is a humanist. I wonder if he cares that I might accidentally be one. Interpreting these messages from the ancients to these new and sparkly humans is a challenge that has left me feeling out of my depth. In and under a water of unfamiliarity. I am teaching a class about things that so many people specialize in, watching, as the time goes by in the text, how these things like specialization came about. It's a dizzying message to convey, hot dog vendor or no.

A friend and former professor (one of the people who made me want to be a professor in the first place) posted an article on my FB wall about the difficulty some people have with complicated academic writing. Clarity, says the woman in the article, is the thing. She is a lawyer, this woman in the article, and she ends the whole thing by talking about how she'd rather tangle with the law than with the academics. That made me lol. Because the real question seems to be who is her audience? Who are theirs? I'm thinking that some person talking about Being in a Heideggerian sense to other people who've read and thought Heidegger is going to necessarily speak to their specific audience. It's not, after all, a fucking Dr. Seuss novel. But if she were talking to people who like Dr. Seuss novels, she'd probably change her tone. Her style, as they say, would depend on the audience toward whom she is directing her words.

But that sort of thinking doesn't get thought very well in popular press magazines. Or in academic circles, really. To talk about changing one's style is, again, one of those bloody open wounds about which this class has me in so many tizzies. It has been revolutionary for my thinking to see these old things dragged on about. In class, we have divided up the major areas (because that's a thing we do in rhetoric, divide things and then explain about the divisions) into four sections: The Civic, The Virtuous, The Decorous, and The Speaker. Tomorrow, I am going to get them to draw a map, a borough, if you will. The four neighborhoods will be the Civic, the Virtue, the Decorum, and the Orator. And I am going to ask them where they think our theorists would live, based on their theoretical propositions and inclinations. I'll let you know how it goes.

Two things:
First, I miss my Dad. Incredibly. He would laugh so much at the hot dog vendor thing. And he would love my distaste for Ramus--Daddy always knew that elegant and syllogism go together like hot dogs and mustard.
Second, I remember remembering the first time I took Classical Rhetoric. It wasn't until grad school, and it was with my MA advisor, Meg Zulick. I was one of the first students to start putting that website together. 20 years ago. In Foundations this semester, I passed around a Roman chronology I had done for Meg, just because I kind of wanted them to see how some of these assignments might look a bit different. The date on the work is October 1997. Old hot dog vendor. But still kicking.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


So. This morning I woke up thinking about Haruki Murakami. His words are sublime; his work ethic unassailable. Some might even argue that his work ethic is borderline unhinged. Today is the last day of Spring Break, and I have finished about three of the things I wanted to do: grading a few things, meeting up with a few dear friends (not all, not at all), and playing Fallout 4 until my hands are literally aching.

Murakami has been one of my favorite romances for a while now. You'll see, if you check the last entry in this blog (5 years ago!), that I loved him then. One of the challenges, academically and pedagogically, that I've been thinking on this semester and year has to do with Murakami very intimately. In my field of Communication Studies, the notion of studying literature (or even reading fiction) is spoken of the way people at dinner parties talk about racism and farts. I know so many academics who react with dismayed surprise when I tell them that I read and love fiction. But writing off novels and stories is short-sighted and unimaginative. In the worlds created by Asimov, Vinge, Murakami, Austen, Carey, Stephenson, and Gibson (just to name a few of my dearest loves), readers may explore the parameters and implications of ethics-in-the-world or philosophy-on-the-ground, a kind of rhetorical space in which we get to see what our highest ethical and political aspirations might actually look like, given "variables" like blood, caste, love, and loss. You know. The little stuff.

The challenge, then: how to incorporate more fiction into my classes. This year, we are reading Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicaon in my Persuasion class. I figured a book about codes and war and secrets might work well after reading about the hyperreal and debunking, discussing cognitive dissonance and Stanley Milgram, and writing about Wag the Dog and "Rhetoric as Epistemic." How my students put these theories together is the best, most mysterious part of such a challenge. I will let you know how it turns out.

I'm still throwing around ideas for novels in my future classes: Rhetoric and Pop Culture (we read How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran last time. Perhaps this time we will read The Peripheral by William Gibson or Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee.
Novels open up different spaces for the students to stand. They can test out their own understandings of the theories we read, perhaps examine the sharp lines between dissonance-in-space and dissonance-in-practice; when the words are well written, we may see the blood spilled by hard ethical boundaries in ways that don't get done in academic journals. Perhaps. We'll see what they say.

Also, hello. I've missed you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Einstein doesn't share food

I am in love with Stumble and may need an intervention.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simulating Rallies

I watched most of the Rally to Support Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert today. It was what I expected it to be, up to a point. Here are my thoughts*, so far:

-I heart Stephen Colbert, and now I know the reason: he looks good in an Evel Knievel suit.
-If I ever vote again, which is a BIG If, it won't be for either of the two main parties in this country. They are false... which is different from simulated. Simulated is more self-aware, and, therefore, more honest.
-Kid Rock needs to eat a sandwich.
-So does Sheryl Crow.
-DC is a really pretty place. I want to go to there.
-The most dangerous kinds of Zombies don't always look dead.
-Paranormal Activity 2 is going to haunt me for a while.
-Flash Mobs** (which range from groups gathering to Zombie Walk and/or Improv are the bees, and this rally was one big, super-prepared Flash Mob.

* Some of these thoughts are not wholly related to the Rally. So. Prepare for random.
** Dancing with Michael Jackson’s UnDead Legions, lurching into open spaces at malls and parks, sometimes “eating” victims to create new legions of the walking dead, gathering on the Washington Mall to test theories of crowd control, these flash mobs affect politics in a very open and artificial way. Each moment of entry into Guinness Book of World Records for numbers adds to the pointlessness. Each camera shot documents the empty space being performed. Each performing body draws attention to the over-performance of life in the very spaces of mass consumption invaded by these moving bodies. Like the collection of games, movies, TV shows, and songs designed to honor and re-member them, these collections of zombie bodies bring audience attention to the end of life by performing it—making it a welcoming artifice, a space of human activity and motion. Such a Zombie Style, in its Affected Political way, gives the masses an unsettling power they cannot get from more historically recognizable methods of political intervention, loudly (and joyfully) defiant of traditional Western searches for an original that never was.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Memories in Space

Recently, my friend posed differences between electronic "firsts" and more traditional "firsts." I wonder if he's onto something. He divides his recollections into The Digital (first section) and The Physical (second section). Let's see how mine fall.

The Digital:

First internet experience: Oooh. Wait. I was in grad school, I think. And people were talking about Eudora and checking things on Eudora. Which made me think of Welty. Also. I had some friend who played on MUDS.

First cell phone: I did not get a cell phone until way late. I don't remember what it looked like, but I do remember that I did not like how people sounded when I talked to them on it, so I tried not to use it very much.

First web page: You're lookin at it, bitches.

First Tweet: Not a clue.

The Physical:

My first car: black Nissan pulsar, manual drive, with T tops. I. Loved. That. Car.

First book I ever loved: Call of the Wild. I read it, like a thousand times.

First song I ever obsessed over: This is a toss up between "It's a Heartache" by Bonnie Tyler and "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. I still know every single word to both.

First room of my own: Matt has a better memory of his. Mine is vague, but I do recall that I totally found a King snake in there when I was, like, three. I am unofficially re-titling this category to First King Snake.

First love: Long blond hair, blue eyes, velvet voice, weird obsession with Concrete Blond and science. Totally unforgettable.

Matt thinks there might be some underlying symbolism to these ties--or the lack thereof. I don't know. I do know that the experience of memory is what makes us. Like skin. It separates us from the worlds in which we function, protecting the softer, denser, more vulnerable bits by drawing lines between our constructions of self and the self constructions with whom we build the worlds we inhabit.

My self still misses that little Pulsar.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Oh. By The Way.

25 days left til football* season.

* And by "football season," I mean, of course COLLEGE football.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Word Gaming

We are playing a game,
Listing off all the synonyms we can think
For False.
How many words
(So many words)
Ring untrue,
Flat and soft and ruined like overripe nectarines?
We will remember them.
We will use them well.
First, we can begin with the beguiling,
The seduction
(Because, as it turns out,
There just aren’t that many ways to say Yes.
There are, however,
So many ways to stretch
The spaces between what we want to hear
And what we will believe.)

Then we will move to the concocted.
(Those are my favorite.)
In this language world we practice
How to maneuver from scene to character,
How to appropriate the weaknesses of the listener
And shape those weaknesses
Into something they’ll imagine is,
And was always,
(I am good at shaping.)

From the concocted, we easily move into that which is apocryphal.
These are your department—
You can be in charge of editing these volumes.
You will decide which tall tales to include
(Therefore, necessarily, the kind of boring bits)
And which of these tall tales will be left out
(The luscious, bloody entrails of accidental love affairs?
The intimate intercourse between dragons and snake charmers and belly dancers?)
I won’t interfere—you take the lead in this section of the game.

After our insubstantial diversions,
We cruise the lesser words—
Crowds of letters and syllables will insert themselves into our conversation
Whether we like it or not.
We try to remove them,
But the houses in which they live,
These mansions that we built for them...
How much time did we spend on the construction?
(So much.)
They are palatial.
Only a fool would want to leave such Gorgeous,
False Palaces.

I think we will end the game on casuistry.
You will try to make sure that this does not occur,
And I will work towards it.
After all, I started this game.
I wrote these rules.
Casuistry is where all of this will end
And where all of it will begin again.