Thursday, May 26, 2005

Can't get enough of Texas

C. and I are off tomorrow for another niece's wedding in Texas. This time by car, this time in lovely(?) Wichita Falls. I've never been to WF (my niece moved there last year), so it could be lovely.

And that drive through Oklahoma--should be exhilirating, what do you think?

Anyway, probably won't be posting until after the holiday weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Management and humanism

I'm finally reading Christopher Newfield's Ivy and Industry, a book that, given its subtitle (Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980) and its intersection with my own book project, I should have read sooner. It's been out about a year and a half, and somehow the whole new job thing kept me from noticing it. Thanks to A.H., a colleague at my new job, for pointing out to me that I needed to read it.

I've encountered Newfield's work before in Chalk Lines: his chapter in that book ("Recapturing Academic Business") impressed me in demonstrating that, unlike some critics of management discourse, he actually knew something about that discourse. But it also struck me as somewhat suspect in its rather middle-of-the-road approach to reform. His major point in that article is that managerial discouse is not monolithic, that management struggles over "downsizing" vs. "empowering," and that academics who oppose the corporatization of higher education need to grab hold of empowering models to offer as alternatives to the downsizing models that seem to dominate higher education. In other words, he argues that "We should not just critique but redefine academic business" (71).

Well, I agree, actually, but there's still something about that article that bothered me, and that nagging feeling continues as I read the book, which continues this basic argument. There's more, of course: in the book, his goal is to demonstrate that the research university has never been without corporate sponsorship (which is certainly true), so the idea that corporate influence over the university is something new is just ill-informed. Moreover, the humanities, he argues, came to adapt themselves to rather than to oppose the managerial. He locates this "managerial humanism" in such works as T. S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in which--contra K. Burke--"the poem emerges not from the poet's symbolic action, but from the withholding of that action" (153) and in the ideology of the New Criticism, which viewed poetry as an effective way to manage the emotions. Newfield cites an article called "The Affective Fallacy," in which critics Wimsatt and Beardsley claim that "Poetry is a way of fixing emotions" (qtd. in Newfield 155).

For Newfield, this dominant managerialism inhibits creativity by taking away agency. Even creativity, under this model, proceeds from containment rather than from "freedom."

So, yeah, maybe you can see why I'm a little tentative. He's really, unapologetically, all about humanism. But he wants to understand humanism not as something monolithic (he considers even poststructuralism to be a kind of anti-humanist humanism--now there's something to spend a few hours getting your brain around), but as a site of struggle. He re-defines it as "a theory of American middle-class possibilities under industrial capitalism" (12).

I have to say, that is interesting. Humanism becomes a way of theorizing the conditions of possibility for action by the PMC in the current economic system (though I wouldn't call the current economic systeme industrial capitalism). Still, though, I've been steeped in poststructuralism too long to really make that shift with much comfort. Need to think about it some more.
I've almost but not quite finished the book. More later, then.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Lunch and the history of composition studies

Finally met up with Win Horner, an emerita professor here at MU and 2003 CCCC Exemplar Awardee, for lunch today. What a treat. For someone (like myself) who is interested in the history of the rhetoric and composition field, there's nothing quite like getting the story straight from one of those who made it. She regaled me with stories of her PhD coursework with Young, Becker, and Pike (who, it turns out, really and truly existed outside of that very famous textbook of theirs--tagmemics, anyone?), of hearing about this thing called "rhetoric" for the first time, of discovering class notes from all these 18th century rhetoric teachers tucked away in a library in Scotland, where they had been filed away for, well, centuries. (A couple, anyway.) She was in graduate school with George Lakoff (and Robin Lakoff, a feminist linguist andGeorge's former wife), and I told her about his new book, Don't Think of an Elephant, which she said she was going to find and read. All in all, a lovely time. And she said she has more stories for the next time we have lunch. Maybe I should get IRB clearing and take my tape recorder?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Class, according to the NYTimes

I've been somewhat surprised that no one (at least that I've seen) has been blogging the NYTimes series on class. Maybe it's because, so far, the series has been less than surprising itself. I'm happy to see attention being paid to the issue, but it isn't as if anything has been a particular revelation.

At least one thing, though, from the Sunday "Overview" was clarifying, if not exactly new:

But the United States differs from Europe in ways that can gum up the mobility machine. Because income inequality is greater here, there is a wider disparity between what rich and poor parents can invest in their children. Perhaps as a result, a child's economic background is a better predictor of school performance in the United States than in Denmark, the Netherlands or France, one recent study found.

"Being born in the elite in the U.S. gives you a constellation of privileges that very few people in the world have ever experienced," Professor Levine said. "Being born poor in the U.S. gives you disadvantages unlike anything in Western Europe and Japan and Canada."

This connects up with some of the things Mike has been talking about, especially here and here. Once we've arrived in elite institutions, it's easy to forget that many, many are not in elite institutions, even at the post-secondary level. And, as Mike points out, many, many at the non-elite institutions have very poor access to technology. Access is indeed about power in this knowledge economy. And the United States continues to offer greater disparities in access than any other economically comparable country.

So, there are moments of clarity in the NYTimes series, but, overall, I'm sceptical of what effect such a pretty soft-handed, essayistic approach will have. I mean, I found the stories today of the married couple from polar opposite class backgrounds and the young woman from Appalachia who had been raised in poverty, became a lawyer, and has now returned to Appalachia, to be interesting reads. But do human interest stories that, by and large, reinforce the goodness of upper middle class values, really do much to move people? Do they have much affect, really?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Chicago doesn't surprise me, but

Philadelphia? Hmmm. Now there's a city I havn't given a lot of consideration.

American Cities That Best Fit You:

75% Chicago

75% Philadelphia

65% New York City

65% Washington, DC

60% Boston

via Clancy

Monday, May 16, 2005

Travel-induced paranoia

So I'm back home now, having spent all day in shuttle vans, small jets, and airports. And there's really nothing like such a claustrophic day for inducing paranoid thoughts. Like these:

(1) What is this "One World Alliance" that American Eagle announces it is proud to be part of as we are preparing for de-planing?

(2) Why was a young woman with a German accent allowed to get a driver's license during a visit to Little Rock but not allowed to get one in Colorado? ("It's ok, right?" she asked the person on the other end of the cell phone. "It's an American driver's license?")

(3) Am I living in parallel universes (a la Star Trek) when I simultaneously see the shuttle drivers from my new home in Columbia and my old home in Carbondale standing side by side in baggage claim at the St. Louis Airport?

(4) Will the Christian right shortly take over the country and install a new totalitarian state as the articles in this month's Harper's warn?

Thursday, May 12, 2005


I'm leaving in the morning to attend my niece's wedding in Stephenville, TX, so it's likely that I won't be blogging for several days. Unless I try that audioblog thing that gave me fits last time.

Probably not.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I'm going to lose my blogging privileges if I don't write something, so here's a list of things to do today (aren't you glad I'm taking up blogspace with this?):

(1) 10 am: doctoral program of study meeting for a PhD candidate in English Ed
(2) 1 pm: conference call: dissertation prospectus meeting with Pittsburgh folks
(3) 3:30 pm: coffee with friend
(4) 4:30 pm: pizza with grad class
(5) 7:00 pm: mindfulness

And there's reading, phone calls, etc. in between there. Plus I have to do my grades by the end of the day tomorrow.

Doesn't look like a lot, really, but I already feel behind. And it was just this morning that I realized 2:00 for the Pittsburgh folks would be 1:00 for me. I'm running a little slow.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

One evening out of a thousand

Saint Louis Jazz Fest has at last updated their website and announced their lineup for next month. And I can hardly believe my good luck: Dave Douglas, one of my very favorite living performers and composers, will be there.

Douglas has a wonderfully open and distinctive approach to the trumpet, and has been astoundingly prolific, with a current total of at least three working bands. My favorite: the Charms of the Night Sky group, so named after their first recording. Incorporating elements of Eastern European folk music (in addition to Douglas's trumpet, the instruments include accordian, violin, bass), this group plays beautiful, soulful music. Their second recording, A Thousand Evenings, is just as lovely, with a most appropriate epigram from Zen master Shunryu Suzuki:
The reason everything looks so beautiful is because it is out of balance. But its background is always in perfect harmony.

But these are just two of a very long discography, ranging from avant-garde to neo-fusion, incorporating the influence of everything from klezmer to the often overlooked work of Mary Lou Williams.

And although it's his Quintet, not the Night Sky group, that will be in St. Louis, you won't find me complaining, especially since it looks like this will be the only stateside jazz fest he does all summer. (He'll be playing with John Zorn's Masada at the Marciac Festival, but it's not looking like I'll make it to the south of France this year.)

So check out Dave Douglas. And if you're within driving distance of St. Louis in June, see him live. (Of course, if you're within driving distance of NY city, you could probably see him live on other occasions.)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Born on Cinco de Mayo

Wish me a Happy Birthday, KB

Happy Birthday, Brother Marx. Happy Birthday to us all.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Will I eat my words

Words to eat:

Told my 1000 students to be sure to bring a pencil to class on Friday. They thought I was going to give them a test. And presumably they were going to just accept that. But, no, it was for evaluations. After class I realized the new evaluation form requires no pencil.

This afternoon, my last 8010 class. Not enough words, I say. Not enough. Not enough. One semester, and now go teach. I was thinking over lunch how I wish I had fit in this, fit in that, remembered this, remembered that. Is there anything harder than "teaching" people how to "teach"? Oh yeah. Teaching people how to write. That's hard, too.

Last month I told C I had had enough birthdays. No need for any more birthdays, thank you. With one day to go, I'm busily retracting those words. Just told him this morning: You know, I really overstated that thing about my birthday. . .

Monday, May 02, 2005

The bashful blogger

Conferenced most of the day with about half of my 1000 ("Exposition and Argumentation") students. Student M, who, as I previously reported, is the only blogger in the class, told me he'd much rather blog than write the kind of evidence-based paper he's currently writing for class.

But, I ask, don't you use evidence to support your opinions on your blog?

Sure, he says, but it's much more abstract.

So I ask him can I read his blog. Red creeps up his face.

No, he says. It's just philosophical stuff.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


I tried to send an audioblog entry three or four times yesterday from the long boring road between Rockford and Bloomington, IL but kept hanging up instead of hitting the approriate key after I had finished recording. It was like a recurring nightmare I used to have: I would be punching in a number on a pay phone because there was some emergency or crisis and I would constantly hit the wrong number, over and over. I stopped having those dreams after I finished grad school and after I had a cell phone, but trying to send in my audioblog was like those stress dreams all over.

So you didn't get to hear me tell you about the slender white wind turbines rising above the empty fields in central Illinois. Nor did you hear me explain that I had been in Milwaukee, where C. had some business to take care of, nor that I was stopping overnight in Bloomington, IL to visit with my diss director, who now teaches at Illinois State, and with my first MA thesis advisee, who teaches at Heartland CC in the same town.

And because I had no camera with me (yes, I know, I should have), I have no record of the sign in Atlas, IL that reads:

Eat Here Get Worms

Nor can I show you the rubble that used to be a Ford dealership catty corner from my old apartment building, nor the apartment building itself. (Though you can see the apartment building through the windows of Alterra Coffee. Look to the left and you can almost see my former livingroom window, where Kitty used to hang out and sniff the air as the coffee roasted:

But, really, everyone should take a road trip the weekend before classes end. Very refreshing. And I got to eat at Beans and Barley twice: once for dinner (black bean burrito), once for breakfast(blueberry granola pancakes). It's a couple of blocks from my old apartment (see above).

Columbia is nice, but I miss Milwaukee.

Update: Almost forgot a small anecdote, mainly for the benefit of a fellow blogger. My friend A. works security at a fancy hotel in Milwaukee where everybody who's somebody stays. And who should have stayed there recently but Bob Dylan? As he was coming in, accompanied by security, he turned to A. and asked, "Smoking rooms?" She assured him, yes. "And the windows open." Yes, she said, though it's true they had to break a small rule to make them so. And they could only be opened an inch. But no complaints from Dylan, so it seems an inch was enough.

Here ends my small anecdote.