Saturday, December 30, 2006

One last thing from the big room

I'm meeting up with G, a former colleague from SIU in a few, and I've got to get my stuff together for check out, but I thought I would take advantage of the beautiful internet connection in my huge room one last time. I just got back from the blogging panel with Michael Bérubé and Bitch PhD. I went to only one other panel, Collin's, the night I arrived. So I had a nice bookend of panels to my two days of conducting interviews. Other than that, I had the chance to spend some quality time with a few of my favorite bloggers, ran into a few of my former colleagues from a couple of different institutions, and will end with coffee and a ride to the airport with a member of my blogging class last spring. Not a bad way to spend a few days in Philadelphia at the end of the year.

And, in fact, I may not be a-blogging again until the next year. See you then.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Big rooms and blogging changes

I'm in Philadelphia, at the Residence Inn, and I have a honking big room. It's bigger, I think, that some apartments I've lived in. With a kitchen and everything. And plates and pots for cooking and eating. If that's what I want to do while I'm here in Philadelphia.

I meant to blog this news this afternoon after arriving. But Blogger told me I needed to make the switch to the new (formerly the Beta) version of Blogger. And so I did. And that took awhile. In fact, it took so long I had fears of loosing everything. But now I'm all switched over. What's new? I'm not sure. I'll see if I can figure it out another day.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

You know it's spam when

Well, there's the bit about the holidays being "a long period of time," and the strange compulsion to spell GERMANY in all caps:

Compliments of the season. It is really quite a long period of time. I have a good news for you at this festitude.

I am happy to inform you about my success in getting those funds transferred under the cooperation of a new partner from GERMANY. Presently Im in GERMANY for an investment projects with my own share of the total sum.

So I guess I won't contact his personal secretary and claim my $435,000, for my nonspecific "past efforts." Nor will I let him know that I've received it, "so that we can share the joy after all the sufferness at that time." Indeed, the sufferness of that time would be all mine.

Peace to you all, in this long period of time.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Much traveling, in the past and future. Just got back from a weekend in Kansas City (maybe some pics to come). Will leave for Texas at the end of the week. And then to Philadelphia for the MLA.

More future travels: Blogger is now, at long last, trying to get me to switch over to the new beta thing. My fear: that my blog will be lost, even though I know Chris and others have successfully switched. Eventually they'll force the issue. So I will switch, or move to Word Press or something.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Or, as he says, OT and IT

I was looking around on the web for stuff by my colleague John Miles Foley. He's in charge of so many things that he has a whole suite of offices in another building on campus--hence, I don't see him terribly often. But one of the things he's in charge of is the Center for E-Research, which sponsors faculty-student research fellowships and also brings speakers to campus.

He's also working on the "Pathways Project," which brings together (as the title of this entry suggests) OT (oral tradition) and IT (the internet). As the webpage for this project explains,

The main subject of the Pathways Project is to illustrate and explain the fundamental similarities between humankind's oldest and newest thought-technologies: oral tradition and the internet. Despite superficial differences, both technologies are radically alike in depending not on static products but rather on continuous processes, not on "What?" but on "How do I get there?" In contrast to the spatial organization of the page and book, the technologies of oral tradition and the internet mime the way we think - by processing along pathways within a network. In both cases it's pathways - not things - that matter.

And, as I was looking around for more stuff he's done, I came across John Walter's blog entry from September, in which he talks about browsing Oral Tradition (the journal JMF edits) alongside Daniel Anderson's blog one day. He offers a nice oral-tradition-inflected reading of Dan's QuickTime movie called "Where I'm At," ending with this:
My point, however, is that once again I’m struck by how oral tradition studies and new media studies can speak to one another just as long as we’re willing to listen.

Almost as a meta comment to my own post, I want to point out that I decided to use the phrase “experience Dan’s performance” rather than using “watch” or “listen” to it. While we go to “see” plays and movies and while we “watch” television, for most of us, we’re listening as well as viewing the performance. We don’t have a term that includes both. People like Ong, working within the phenomenological tradition, have been dealing with issues like this for decades (see, for instance, “’I See What You Say’: Sense Analogues for Intellect.” Human Inquiries 10.1-3 (1970): 22-42; Rpt. in Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 122-44), and yet we still don’t pay enough attention to these issues. Materiality and performance studies, while growing, are still largely niche specialties within both literary studies and rhetoric and composition. I’d love to seem more interaction and cross-disciplinary work taking place.

All of which makes me think: John (Walter, I mean)--maybe we should arrange some sort of symposium on just this thing while you're still in St. Louis. What do you say?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

MLAs I have known

I'm going to MLA, in a completely new capacity for me: I'm neither being interviewed (which is the usual reason I find myself at MLA), nor am I giving a paper (which I've done a couple of times). I'm going to MLA, totally on my department's nickel, because I'm on a search committee.

Since I wasn't sure what my schedule would be like before the interviews were set up, I hadn't even bothered to look at the program. I didn't want to find a panel that I really wanted to go to, and then end up not being able to go.

As it is, I'm not sure I'll be able to get to the big blogging panel Saturday morning, which I had heard about (via Collin), but I'm going to try. (And is that really Bitch PhD on the program? Somehow I had expected, when and if her true identity was finally revealed, to think--oh! so *that's* Bitch PhD! Of course! But I had no such moment. And, in retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought that.) And I'd like to make it to my colleague Elizabeth's panel on Saturday at 1:45 (because I think she's going to be talking about visual intertextuality in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, even though the title might not directly say that), but I think I might not have time to go to it and make my flight out of Philadelphia. And the interviewing schedule will make it impossible to make the big CCCC-sponsored panel on Thursday morning.

But, the good news is that I should be able to make it to Collin's panel on Wednesday. And I have open time around noon on both Thursday and Friday, so I can make it to the wiki panel Thursday. (Which combines my interest in wikis with my former passionate interest in language poetry!) As Collin notes, though, the wiki panel is at the same time as a panel on blogs with Michael Bérubé. So still can't do everything. But I can catch the panel with Katherine Hayles talking about "The Death of Postmodernism and the Rise of Informationalism" at noon on Friday.

I'll need to browse some more. But I'm happy to find that I'll be able to go to a few panels that promise to be interesting. I realize I'm going to reveal myself to be some sort of oddball here, but I have to admit that I actually like going to MLA. Because of my long and varied history in English, I have interests (like the one in language poetry) that I seldom get to to pursue. MLA offers me the opportunity to dip back into areas that still pull on me, and also to get to panels on rhetoric and such that often have better attendance than similar panels at CCCC. So MLA is ok with me. Call me crazy.

I also should have some time for socializing. So that's nice, too.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Composition, 1970 style

ad that says

I'm browsing issues of CCC from 1970. Some of the best parts are the ads. It's easy to see why Sirc has a certain nostalgia for late-60s composition. Textbooks called "The Rhetoric of No" and "NON-BOOKs." Something happened around 1975 or so. (And that's the topic of a chapter I'm working on right about now.)

The ads themselves:

ad for
ad for textbook called

Monday, December 04, 2006

Buying software

So let's say you did a week-long workshop on teaching with technology. For your participation, you're given $500 to spend on any computer software, etc. And let's say you're most interested in Web 2.0 things. Should you buy some good wiki software? Or what? What in the world should you buy?

It isn't that you can't think of things. It's just that there are so many things.

What would *you* buy?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More with the crowds

Jeff's post on The Wisdom of Crowds prompted me to do a little internet searching to glean some more information about this book and its basic idea.

And going to Google, of course, is itself an example of trusting to the wisdom of crowds, trusting that in the aggregate of that information gathering I'll find a range of opinions, the average of which will give me the best opinion. (Amazon rankings, too, are an example of this wisdom, I would say, and the average rating for the book itself is four stars. Pretty good.)

Jeff's post interested me for at least a couple of reasons. For one, the idea of crowd wisdom connects up with Google rankings and the circulation of information, something I've been thinking about, and something that Jenny talks about at greater length.

Another reason has to do with what I allude to in the comments on Jeff's blog. I don't want to get specific here, and it isn't really anything that specific, it's just noticing what happens at meetings and being somewhat mystified. I would say that two problems I've noticed in various settings is (1) too much centralized control, and (2) not enough diversity of information. For crowds to be wise, according to the book, you need to have decentralized decision-making and a diversity of information.

And a third reason (taking me beyond a couple) that just comes to me as I'm thinking about this is something that's been rattling around for me since reading the WPA-L archives from a few years back. I was looking for the thread that "responded" to the summary of one of Bousquet's piece from the Chronicle. (That is, the Chronicle summarized an article of Bousquet's. The prepositional phrases in that sentence got out of hand.) While searching, I came across another thread about a certain writing program, and was especially taken by something Jeff wrote there, noting the diversity of approaches and commitment to pedagogy exhibited by TAs at his PhD program. And I was wondering how one might duplicate that, how to get a program where there is a real investment in intelligent, innovative pedagogy. Clearly, prescribed syllabi aren't going to do it (and we don't have prescribed syllabi here). But just pure laissez-faire doesn't seem to quite do it, either. Seems like what's missing in the latter approach is aggregation? So maybe a good role for the WPA would be something like that? Aggregator in chief?

Just thinking.

Friday, December 01, 2006

White out

The view from my front door (photo courtesy of C):

Lotsa snow

Somewhere in there, there's my yard, the street, and the neighbor's yard. Somewhere.

Says the Columbia Daily Tribune:

Old Man Winter dumped between a foot and 15½ inches of snow on Columbia in a 24-hour period, making this year the second most significant snowfall since 1900.

Oh, and there's this:
Today’s snowfall has essentially shut down the city. Emergency officials are urging residents to stay home. The University of Missouri-Columbia called off classes today for the first time since 1995.

I was just complaining over at Billie's blog that I never get snow days like I did when I was growing up in Texas and any snow or ice fall was a major event. And now I get a snow day, but there's a small complication. I'm ON LEAVE! So, who cares that classes are cancelled? In fact, it's slightly annoying. I can't go anywhere. The roads are impassible. (Although I do see some tire tunnels in front of the house now, so someone got through.) What if I need to go to the store? What if I have a medical emergency?

Ah well. Keep warm out there.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

So it ends

This month of daily blogging reminds me why I stopped blogging daily. Some days, I just don't have much to say. On the other hand, it reminds me why it's often useful to blog daily. Sometimes you've got something to say, and you just don't blog anyway, because it doesn't seem like a particular priority. So, on the balance, I would say an aspiration toward daily blogging is probably the way to go.

In other news, it's cold as heck and some kind of icy substance is hitting my windows. Yeck. They're saying lots of snow overnight. Maybe even--said the local NPR announcer this morning--THUNDER SNOW.

I remember a nice thunder snowstorm in Milwaukee in my first or second year there. C and I walked down Oakland to William Ho's. Not great Chinese food, but it was about the closest restaurant to our apartment at the time. The place was pretty empty, so we had great service. It was enchanting, walking the nearly deserted street, the snow falling, the thunder rolling.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Productivity wiki

Today I decided to set up a personal wiki where I could keep a running list of projects, for both the sublime and the mundane. That is, it's a place where I envision keeping reading notes as well as to-do lists. One of the principles of Getting Things Done is to "have as few collection buckets as you can get by with." So I'm thinking a wiki makes a good collection bucket.

And it may be that others have already discovered this possibility. But it just came to me, in a flash of inspiration, today.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some arithmetic for today

(1) I added a photo of a hologram to my last blog entry. Take a look.

(2) We've added a cat to our house. Unfortunately, he has some intestinal interlopers to kick before he can meet the other cats. Cross your fingers. (Here he is. His name is Hansel.)

(3) I'm adding this blog to the meme propagation experiment. It's always nice to be part of an ecology.

Here's a paragraph about it, straight from Collin's blog:

Scott Eric Kaufman is conducting an experiment on the propagation of memes, the results of which will be part of his talk at said panel [at MLA]. He's asking people to post entries about his entry, link back to the original entry, and then ping Technorati (if your blogging platform doesn't already do so automatically). That's all. And to make it easy, all you really need do is to copy and paste this very paragraph, formatting in the links to Scott's entry and to Technorati, then visit Technorati and enter the URL for your own entry. That sounds like more work than it actually is. And the reward is that you'll be contributing to Science™.

Scott's URL:
Technorati Ping Form:

(4) Two more days. Two more days.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gifts of light

Today I was gifted with several holograms. Yes. Holograms. 3-D images in plates of glass. They look very cool on my mantelpiece. A dolphin's tail bursts out at you. A small ladder climbs into the air.

Perhaps photos later, if they're photographable (by me, anyway). The gifts came from these artists, who are, sadly, leaving Columbia.

Update: A photo of one of the holograms. You're looking at an image of a 3-D image.

Ladder hologram

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reparative blogging

Collin's entry titled "On Blogging" reminds me that I've done precious little meta-blogging during this month of daily blogging. (There was the blogging/ferret entry, but that was just something I snatched from Michael Bérubé.)Given my proclivity for just such a thing, I'm surprised.

Collin points to Craig Saper's "Blogodemia" article, describing it as

a nice extended reflection of what academic blogging might have to contribute to the production of knowledge

and adding that what academic blogging might contribute is
a question that has too many answers right now to be quickly or comfortably resolved.

Academic blogging, in other words, is potential. Not fixed. An intensity.

Nay-sayers, like the infamous Tribble, would fix it. Actually, you don't even have to be a nay-sayer to fix it. You just have to tend toward paranoid reading practices, practices which, as Eve Sedgwick describes them, are "closely tied to a notion of the inevitable" (Touching Feeling 147) and which place "an extraordinary stress on the efficacy of knowledge per se--knowledge in the form of exposure" (138). The paranoid critic assumes that blogging leads inevitably to exposure--and that the critic's job is to expose this exposure. To wake up the fools who mistakenly think blogging is "innocent."

And while there are certainly blogs that participate in the logic of paranoia, blogging as a phenomenon is unknowable. My compulsive meta-blogging may itself be something of a hold-over from my own intense training in paranoid reading practices, my own need to fix meaning. But what makes blogging truly a pleasure--and here I mean blogging as a reading/writing practice--is the surprise. The not knowing. And the productivity--the connecting, the adding.

Sedgwick offers "reparative reading" as a non-paranoid critical practice:

The desire of a reparative impulse . . . is additive and accretive. . . . [I]t wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self.
. . .
What we can best learn from such practices are, perhaps, the many ways selves and communities succeed in extracting sustenance from the objects of a culture. (149, 150)

Additive. Extracting sustenance. Sounds like blogging to me.

Or, at least, sounds like what I like about blogging.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On the road

Some photos from the Thanksgiving trip. Columbia, MO, to northern Illinois. (All taken by C. I was driving.)

Sign says: Eat here. Get worms.

Courthouse at Pittsfield, IL

Highway 61 exit to Bowling Green, MO

Friday, November 24, 2006

Information unload

Major holidays--Thanksgiving, Christmas--offer small miracles: almost no email coming in. Even the WPA list has slowed to less than a trickle.

I love email. I love the information that circulates and is available at a few clicks of the mouse. But on days when it slows to almost nothing, I begin to appreciate how much clutter it brings, too. Brain clutter, I mean. Emotional heaviness.

All the more reason to find ways to manage--filters and organizing systems. I need to keep *that* in mind.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


How's that for a title?

A long drive today, to dine with C's parents and sibling and sibling's partner. Afterwards, some home movies discovered in his grandmother's house after her death this summer.

C's grandparents took a trip to Egypt. So in one roll of film (digitized, of course) we see ruins along the Nile. And then a parade in rural Michigan, with Big Boy waving from a float.

And I guess that just about says it, doesn't it? The odd juxtapositions that create a life.

But it's also true that I'm tired. Hope you all had a pleasant Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Enough with the lightbulbs already

This house that I live celebrates the diversity of lightbulbs.

Me, I've spent most of my adult life in apartments that offer the basics: a light in the kitchen, a light in the bathroom, a light in the bedroom. All taking your traditional 60 watt bulb.

But this house must do more. Despite needing a whole lot of work (like, maybe the foundation and the walls could learn to meet), this house has been redone mainly in the area of ligthing. Track lighting in the kitchen. A chandalier (nothing fancy) in the dining area. Recessed lighting in the living room. Another kind of track lighting altogether upstairs. All requiring their own special bulbs.

That's all well and good, but the problem is that I can't for the life of me figure out how to get the halogen lamps (in the kitchen track lighting) out of their holders. At this point, I've just got one (out of six) left burning. When that one goes, I'll be left in the dark. (Well, not really. There's a recessed light over the sink.)

The little halogen lamps are held in place by these hard plastic claws. The claws don't move, that I can tell. They hold the little lamps in place. They won't let go.

And so I cursed the people who put them there. Why did they need track lighting in here? (When I first moved in and all the lights shone brightly, I loved the track lighting. Things change.) Why can't we just have a simple incandescent bulb?

At least I replaced some bulbs. The one over the fireplace. The one over the staircase. The one in the foyer.

It's getting dark earlier. Suddenly we realized we needed more light.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


As you've probably heard, director Robert Altman passed away last night.

No need to tell you of his accomplishments, which you can read about it at your leisure. I'm noting his passing here for quite personal reasons.

For one, I have great affection for one of his last movies, Gosford Park. When I was living in Carbondale, up until they opened the new movie theater with (very narrow) stadium seating, they still were showing movies at the Varsity Theater (circa 1940). Just a few blocks from campus, right across the street from a walk-up only Dairy Queen, it gave any movie a nostalgic glow. I have fond feelings for just about every movie I saw there. And Gosford Park was one of my favorites: class commentary and Altman's distinctive "interest in chaos." Seeing it at the Varsity is a lovely memory from my four years in Carbondale.

For another, Altman is a native of my current home state. He commemorated his hometown in another movie I'm fond of, Kansas City (some of my favorite jazz musicians were among the cast members, including James Carter, David Murray, Geri Allen, Christian McBride, Don Byron).

And, according to some sources, he even attended Mizzou. To study engineering.

It's odd to think that someone whose movies "seem incoherent" started out in engineering. But somehow reassuring, too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A good day for jazz

Although I'm excited about a couple of the upcoming concerts scheduled by Columbia's "We Always Swing" Jazz Series, I was overall somewhat disappointed when this year's schedule was (finally) announced in September. Usually I can't quite get to all the ones I want to get to, but this year I felt no sense of loss.

So today I was happy to receive an email notice announcing that guitarist Bill Frisell will be at The Blue Note (no, not that Blue Note). He has an unmistakable sound--and a pretty incredible inventiveness and range. Not only that, but violinist Jenny Scheiman will be joining him. Her 12 Songs CD is just about my favorite jazz-ish release of the past couple of years--very fresh and surprising.

And, hey: I'm doing TWO blog entries in one day. Because I figure the last one maybe isn't a *real* blog post.

My contribution

Having recently given a little (yes, just a little) thought to Google bombing, I'm hereby contributing to the effort to change a Google ranking:

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Via (and viva!) Collin.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Little red book

On the way to my office this afternoon (to take care of a couple of things before the holidays), I saw a little red booklet in the grass next to the sidewalk. Being generally interested in little red books (like this one),

I picked it up.

It wasn't your great-grandfather's little red book. The title of the one I found? Students for Academic Freedom. Like the IWW, they too are trying to "fan the flames of discontent." Just from a different angle.

According to some information on the website (studentsforacademicfreedom[dot]org),

Students for Academic Freedom has a little red book where they talk about the salient principles in the Academic Bill of Rights and in the movement, and that's actually become required reading for my political philosophies class at Georgia Tech, and the professor now spends a whole section of the class talking about these issues and assigning sections in Mr. Horowitz's work, which again, I think is very encouraging and would've been unheard of a couple of years ago.

If the website is up to date, then there isn't a SAF chapter at my institution. Perhaps some representatives were on campus, handing out the little red book in the same way that the Gideons hand out the little green New Testaments?

But don't you find it a little odd that they chose to create little red books? David Horowitz, the next Mao Zedong? A cultural revolution, on the horizon?

Maybe not. Maybe they're just printing little red books. And some people are dropping them in the grass.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

So many conferences...

Lanette's post about the NCTE reminded me that it was going on this week, along with NCA (where some other bloggers have been).

I've never been to either of these conferences, despite being a member of NCTE for something like 14 years and despite thinking for the past seven or so that *this* year I really am going to submit a proposal to NCA.

But, really, how many conferences can a person go to? There's the issue of travel money, which is limited. But even beyond that, there's the issue of time: if I go to a conference, I want to present (CCCC is about the only conference I go to when not presenting). But how many papers do I really want to give in a year? Seems like some years I've given papers at up to four or five conferences, which ends up seeming like too many. These days, I'm going to about two (always CCCC; last year, I added RSA; this year, I'm planning to go to Computers & Writing.)

What I learned from going to RSA for only the second time ever is that it's certainly worthwhile to change up your conferences. There's one conference I've been to multiple times (and which shall remain nameless), and that I just kept going to, even though I found myself often disappointed. Last year, I let it go, knowing that I wanted to go to RSA and that I didn't want to go to three conferences. And, guess what? RSA was not disappointing. So I really should try out a new conference every year or so--keep things fresh.

Well, I suppose I could ramble on here for awhile more about conferences, but it doesn't seem as if I'm really getting to much of a point. Just talking. So I'll sign off.

[But wait! I should add that this post is also something of an answer to John's question below, about why I've never been to the M/MLA, even though he's put together rhet/comp panels for the past several years. And, there again, that's a conference I've often contemplated (in fact, I'm pretty sure at some point I've contemplated responding to one of John's CFPs). It was even in Milwaukee one year, for crying out loud. And even that didn't force my hand.]

Friday, November 17, 2006

The miniature maps of Robert Morden

A few Christmases ago I gave a friend an old map of Milwaukee as a gift.

I ordered it from this rare map website, and, as is the case with all websites that one orders from, I now get regular messages from this site, telling me about new maps that are available for purchase.

Today, it's the miniature maps of Robert Morden.

According to the email I received,

Robert Morden was among the first successful commercial map makers in England in the latter part of the 17th Century.
. . .
For American collectors, Morden is perhaps best known for several very rare early maps of the British Colonies in North America, which are now among the earliest and most sought after maps for collectors of Colonial American maps.

Among his most interesting works was a series of miniature maps of the World, which appeared in both playing card format and in a series of Atlases, including his Atlas Terrestris and Geography Antatomiz'd, beginning in 1687.

I'm intrigued by this idea of maps being reproduced on playing cards--a different kind of mass medium. And one that speaks to leisure, the leisure of gazing at the world, taking it in.

Here's Morden's map of the Great Lakes and the east coast (from 1687).

Milwaukee doesn't exist yet, but if it did, you would find it here on the west coast of something called Lake Illonowik.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blogs as ferrets

Hey, look, it's night again. It's that time change, I tell you. I can't catch up. (Oh, I *got* an hour, you say?)

Anyway, I was reading Michael Bérubé's M/MLA keynote (why have I never been to M/MLA? I always think I will. And Kevin is president even! Michael had dinner with him; I had lunch), and I laughed out loud at his characterization of how some academics think of blogs:

I’ve also run across a number of colleagues who think of blogs neither as a debased medium nor as a weird hobby but as something more like a pet ferret—you know, maybe it’s edgy and intriguing in some ways, but then again maybe it’ll run around all over the place and eat your shoes.

As Homer says, it's funny because it's true. The fear of blogs. The thinking that blogs are exotic. Whoa. A little too much for me. You have a blog? Hmm.

They're curious creatures, those ferrets. Smart, too.

And to all a good night.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mediations of Pooh

I drove C. to campus this morning--he needed to get there early, and I needed the car for picking up Simon from the vet's later today. As I was driving home down Stewart, watching some leaves swirling around in the road and some mist accumulating on my windshield, I thought--it's a blustery day.

And that noun phrase--"blustery day"--is affectively linked in my mind to Winnie the Pooh. Just say "blustery day" to me, and I'll instantly be filled with pleasant feelings, all of which have the orange haze of Pooh surrounding them.

In fact, I think "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,"

an animated children's special that ran each fall of my childhood, along with Charlie Brown specials and such, must have been my first exposure to Pooh. And it's funny, because in my mind Pooh is aligned not only with blustery days, but also with a certain early twentieth century Britishness. (I was something of an Anglophile back in the day--and I'm wondering now if Sebastian Cabot's narration might have been a contributing factor to that. Of course, Sebastian Cabot also appeared in one of my favorite childhood TV shows, Family Affair. Mrs. Beasley!) So it's fun to think about the mediation of Pooh in the early 1970s, and how that mediation is what brought a kind of old rural Britain nostalgia home to me.

That mediation inspired a backward movement, too, so that A. A. Milne's books were among the first "long" books I read. I ordered The House at Pooh Corner from the Scholastic book order form. (Did you get those at your school? I don't know how long this was a phenomenon; I just know it was one of the most exciting moments of my school year when they were passed out. In addition to The House at Pooh Corner, I remember ordering a book about Florence Nightingale, which was billed as a kind of proto-feminist story. I did not come from a feminist family, so this seemed subversive to me at seven. I also ordered compilations of Charlie Brown comics.)

And those A. A. Milne books were curiousities, because the black and white drawings by Ernest Shepard looked very little like the adaptations of Pooh on the television. For one thing, the Pooh of the books did not wear a little red shirt. He had a big barrel of a body. His face was less broad--more solemn, really. More like a creature who would say, "Oh, bother," than the childish, happy face on TV.

(The House at Pooh Corner also got an audio spin, thanks to Kenny Loggins and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Given the "dirt" in the name of the band, I felt that perhaps they weren't very nice. But then how could they sing about Pooh? Ah, such contradictions to deal with at such a young age!)

I had a stuffed Pooh at home. He resembled the Pooh on TV (though less like the stuffed Poohs these days, which look *totally* like the animated Pooh), with a red shirt (embroidered with "Pooh" on the front) and no slouch. Back then, you could get a stuffed Pooh only from Sear's. Somewhere along the way they lost their exclusive rights, but back in the 70s, Pooh was like a Sears trademark. Just take a look at this 1972 "Wish Book":

But the Pooh in the books, while special to Christopher Robin, wasn't really special as a plush toy, and that's what the drawings emphasis--he's really pretty ordinary. A plain looking stuffed bear. What's extraordinary is the imagination that enlivens him, sends him on (somewhat mundane) adventures.

Ordinary isn't so good for marketing. In the Signals catalogue (for fans of Public Television--they apparently like expensive do-dads)that arrived yesterday, I saw a stuffed Pooh from Steiff. Limited numbers available. For the unbelievable price of $395.

For a stuffed bear. A much mediated stuffed bear.

And I'm only scratching the surface here. I haven't even touched upon the many bookish manifestations of Pooh--The Tao of, the Latin translation of.

The multi-modally circulating Pooh affect.

(And there's the official Pooh website, too.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Let's stop blogging in the evening, shall we?

Somewhere along the way of this month of blogging I got into the habit of blogging in the evening. Bad idea. Although I could write in the evening when I was a student (undergraduate and graduate), I seem to have lost this art since hitting the tenure-track. And so here I am, night after night, trying to sound smart, and ending up instead telling you about my love for pumpkins and cookies. Big woop.

Meanwhile, I have cats with various ailments, including one who's staying overnight at the vet. Can't we all just be well for awhile?

All right. Signing off. Here's to better blogging. Early and often, as they say about voting (even if it never makes sense, really).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bidding for chocolate

For each of the years I've been here at Mizzou, the grad student organization in my department has sponsored a fund-raising auction. Last year, I put in a last-minute bid and nabbed the much-coveted (and truly delicious) blueberry pie, compliments of my department's chair. I've just put in a last-minute bid for the item I most desire this year: chocolate to die for cookies. I mean, they've got chocolate, they've got cinnamon, they've got liqueur. What more could you want from a cookie?

Readers of Saturday's post might wonder why I'm not bidding on the pumpkin cake with pecan streusel topping and homemade maple ice cream. Indeed, I'm wondering that myself. I think the reason is that the top bid is already $25, and I'm not wanting to go over that.

And for some reason this year everyone seems to be using pseudonyms. What's up with that? I want to know who I'm in a bidding war with. "Pierre Menard?" Who's that? And who's this "Edgar Mandlebart" person who currently has the top bid for something like eight items, including the (sure to be delicious) pumpkin cake?

I like plain dealing in bidding, just like I like it in blogging. Don't you?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How to teach, in 100 pages or less

Next semester I'll be teaching English 8010, Theory and Practice of College Composition, the required course for new graduate teaching assistants. We offer two sections each year, one in the fall for new PhD students, and one in the spring for MA students. (Our MA students work in the Writing Lab for their first year and teach in their second year.)

I'm thinking about using a kind of book I've never used before in this class (or in the similar class I taught at SIU)--a general book about how to teach (in college). There seems to be a lot of anxiety surrounding the basic idea of teaching--which is, no doubt understandable. That is, although I think of the class as an introduction to thinking about writing practices in order to be able to teach writing practices, the students are often thinking of the class as a chance to figure out what to do, on a very general level, when they walk into the classroom for the first time.

I understand that anxiety. So I'm thinking of assigning a book that's something like "good practices in the college classroom." This one, Successful Beginnings for College Teaching , gets high marks at Amazon, so I ordered a copy. It's ok. I mean, some of it is stuff I really wouldn't do, like giving students a guide to good study habits. There's a good bit of stuff about testing and lecturing, which doesn't really apply to composition teaching. But it does include some useful bits about setting up a comfortable climate for learning and such.

I don't know. Anyone else ever used a book (for yourself or for a class) like this?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pumpkins and stuff

It's fall, so it's time for my annual everything-pumpkin orgy. (This is something that goes on for months; it isn't like a party or anything. Though that's not such a bad idea.)

What this means is that, for most of the months of late fall and winter, I make and eat familiar pumpkin items (pie, bread, pancakes). I search for and consume pumpkin items I don't make myself--either because it's too hard or I just don't (bars, ravioli, what have you).

I've had pumpkin pie ice cream before, but tonight I had something new: pumpkin custard. I will tell you, in case you haven't had the pleasure of indulging, that frozen custard is like ice cream to the 10th power. Super rich and creamy. I became addicted to it while living in Milwaukee, home of Kopp's and other fine custard establishments. For some reason, custard is also wildly popular here in mid-Missouri.

And I guess that's just about all I have to say about that.

Oh, but there's this: this blogging every day is killing me. And maybe my readers, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cat Ghosts

When Kitty, our beautiful solid black cat, died at 18 two years ago, friends from Carbondale sent a framed copy of W. S. Merwin's poem "Cat Ghosts." It was a lovely gift, much appreciated.

This afternoon, tooling around aimlessly on the blogosphere, I saw that Merwin is reading in Bloomington, Indiana on Monday. It was in Bloomington that Kitty and Clyde first came to live with us. Somehow, it all seems to lead me to think that I have exigence enough to put the poem here. So I am. In memory of both of our much missed cats.

Cat Ghosts


Years after
in a kitchen of another country
you’re still hungry


In the heat of the day
your shadow comes back
to lie on your stone

Thursday, November 09, 2006

To my colleagues, who I might have accidentally snubbed

Dear Colleague #1 (the newbie):
When I was racing down 9th St, I think I saw you in the distance. I noticed you were wearing a jacket (as I was), even though it was a beautiful 75 or so outside. It made me happy that someone else was wearing a jacket, that I wasn't alone. It didn't register that I was looking straight at a colleague, offering no glimmer of recognition. Until you passed right by me, and I finally said hello. I'm not sure if you heard. Forgive me. I was late for a lunch date.

Dear Colleague #2 (the out-of-towner):
When I descended upon the main office today while you were making copies, I did say hello to you. Then I discovered that the file cabinet held whole sets of applications that I had yet to read, and I had to be somewhere else in 20 minutes. I sat down to read, blocking out everything else. I heard you say you were off to drink coffee and read like mad, and I think I said something about how I too had to read like mad. In retrospect, I think you might have then invited me to join you for coffee. But I didn't hear you (or, if I heard, I didn't register what I was hearing). And so I didn't answer. I'm sorry. I couldn't have had coffee right then, but at least I could have told you so.

This was my day. Hurrying hither and yon. Accidentally rebuffing perfectly friendly colleagues.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Perhaps I'm slow. But today, for the first time that I can remember, I started playing around with the words "Writing Program."

For one thing, you can do the common play with the participle, so that instead of "writing" acting as an adjective for "program," it acts as a verb with "program" as its object. And that spins the concept a bit, to put the emphasis on the discursive nature of programs, as things which are written, in process.

But, then, a "program" isn't just a bureaucratic abstraction. It's a set of instructions for a computer. And can be hacked.

What if we think of a WPA as a programmer, a writer of code. And as a potential hacker.

Yes, what if?

Some things rattling around in my brain today. And now they're here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


My dissertation was entitled "Writing Economies" (and it had a subtitle, too, but that isn't important right now). But, truth be told, it should have been called "Writing Economy," because I had really only one kind of economy in mind: capitalism. If only I had read J. K. Gibson-Graham's The End of Capitalism (as we knew it) when it came out in 1996, I might have really written about the plural instead of being stuck in the singular.

I’m feeling hugely indebted to Mike for insisting that I read J. K. Gibson-Graham. Their effort to break up the monolithic concept called capitalism opens up so much space for analysis and action. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of Steven Shaviro’s ability to mingle economics with what might be called (for shorthand) postmodernism, a move that has often seemed difficult as some Marxists stick resolutely to a modernist discourse, making it seem irrelevant to the postmodern (or to the moment of complexity that Taylor describes). What Gibson-Graham (a pen name for two feminist economic geographers) offer that seems missing almost everywhere else is the willingness to “queer” the economy itself—to call for a theory of “economic difference” that understands economics to be heterogeneous processes instead of one inescapable system. They name the dominant discourse “capitalocentrism”:

When we say that most economic discourse is “capitalocentric,” we mean that other forms of economy (not to mention noneconomic aspects of social life) are often understood primarily with reference to capitalism: as being fundamentally the same as (or modeled upon) capitalism, or as being deficient or substandard imitations; as being opposite to capitalism; as being the complement of capitalism; as existing in capitalism’s space or orbit. (The End of Capitalism 6)

In other words, the discourse of a homogeneous, inescapable capitalism circulates and gains power (and, ultimately, impedes politics) through its repetition, and “capitalism becomes the everything everywhere of contemporary cultural representation” (End 9).

This “strong theory” of capitalism’s pervasiveness “establishes what is, but pays no heed to what it does” (A Postcapitalist Politics 4). As a result, the left remains in a kind of stasis, frozen in “melancholia” (a la Benjamin), “in which attachment to a past political analysis or identity is stronger than the interest in present possibilities for mobilization, alliance, or transformation” (Postcapitalist 5).

This melancholia, moreover, tends to lead to ressentiment and moralistic stances. Moralism leads to the search for pure actions, ones that are not tainted with corrupt power. But the search for purity, too, is paralyzing:

The theoretical closure of paranoia, the backward-looking political certainty of melancholia and the moralistic skepticism toward power render the world effectively uncontestable. The accompanying affects of despair, separation, and resentment are negative and repudiating, inhospitable to adventure and innovation, at best cautious and lacking in temerity. (Postcapitalist 6)

And why might this matter to my field, rhetoric and composition? I’m sure Mike has more thought out answers to this than I do, but one thing that occurs to me is this: the field’s politics are predominantly leftist, predominantly anti-capitalist (whether from a general humanities-based distrust of “business” or from a theoretical commitment to something like Marxism). But this politics is also predominately non-economic (and so that’s one of the things L. Carter has wrong—there is no “socialist” economics in the field, just Marxist/progressive cultural politics). *And*, importantly, this politics is also predominantly de-politicized. On the one hand, we have technocratic leftists who invoke “pragmatism,” arguing that we must above all attend to students’ “needs” (as if needs themselves are homogeneous); on the other hand, we have “radical” leftists who eschew power (get rid of the teacher! Get rid of the WPA!) and advocate something called “critical” education. (The debate in the recent issue of CCC between Thelin and Durst is a good illustration of these two left positions at odds with each other.) The question in both cases focuses more on what is “right” (moralistically) than on what is possible.

This is getting long, so I’ll close for now. But, needless to say, Gibson-Graham have me thinking. Perhaps more later.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election eve

Why, I just asked C., aren't we getting any phone calls tonight? Yesterday and last week we got messages: please vote. And please, don't just vote: vote our way. Little hanging notices to vote greeted us at our door. We got postcards in the mail. Vote! Vote! Please vote!

But tonight, it's all silence. I guess they think they've done enough.

Mid-term elections are only rarely interesting. This is one of the interesting times. Missouri is considered a must-win for Democrats, if the Senate is to go blue. (Heck, the senate race even has its own Wikipedia entry.) We've also got a stem-cell amendment and a minimum wage proposition up for decision. It should all be interesting. (Or not. It all depends, doesn't it?)

The last time I found myself especially interested in a mid-term election was the 1998 Senate race in Wisconsin. Russ Feingold, the incumbant, had, with John McCain, sponsored a campaign finance reform measure. To uphold the principle behind that call for reform, Feingold refused unregulated soft money contributions to his campaign. It was widely reported that this refusal could cost him his seat.

But huge, and I mean HUGE, local efforts in Milwaukee (and, I suspect, Madison, where the voter turnout was also high) made it impossible to overlook the race. It was a rhetorical tour de force. Persuasion by saturation. I remember feeling almost giddy as I walked to the Public Library on North Avenue in the bracing November cold and joined a long line of voters. I felt like I was part of something. And I still feel proud every time I hear Russ Feingold's name mentioned in the news. (And may I just mention the wonder of voting in Wisconsin, where registration is possible on election day at the polling location.)

So let's hope I have cause to feel some pride in Missouri after tomorrow's election.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I'm grateful to all of you who've left comments in response to Clyde's passing yesterday.

We weren't really prepared for this. We knew something was wrong with Clyde--he hadn't been eating much for the past month or so, and for a cat that once weighed 19 pounds and had maintained a pretty robust appetite even into the thinning of old age, that was especially worrisome. But we didn't know what was wrong; blood tests were inconclusive. He had become very weak over the past two weeks, and things hit a crisis point late yesterday afternoon, sending us to the emergency clinic at the vet school.

I think I'll be able to get back to regular blogging tomorrow. Thanks for your patience, in the meantime. And thank you again, truly, for your words.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Clyde October 2006

1986(?)-November 4, 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006


Chris tagged me earlier in the week. And since he's good enough to answer my call for participation in NaBloPoMo, I'll answer his call, too.

But first, a little meditation on tagging. Because isn't it funny that in this context it has the old playground meaning of "I tag you! You're it!" But usually (when blogging) I think of tags as labels, ways of identifying posts. (Not that I've got the tagging going on here so much.) Then there are the tags sewn into our clothes, though some t-shirts now have them stamped in.

Tags. What are you? You're it: you have to tell us. All righty, then. Five things you might not know about me:

1. When I was in the third grade, I had a pair of purple jeans. They were really something.

2. When I was five, I had a dog named Poochie. Or so I called him. Everyone else seemed to call him "Skipper." Whatever.

3. I won a radio once.

4. In the fifth grade, I lived in Uvalde, TX. While there, I won a red ribbon in an oral interpretation contest and a yellow ribbon in a spelling contest.

5. A family of ghosts lived in the air conditioner at my house. My parents still live in the house. I'm not sure about the ghosts.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I've been thinking about the canon of delivery this week.

First, it was Steven Johnson's piece at the back of last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. It is, as he says on his own blog, "a rumination on the role of the public intellectual in the age of Google." In it, he argues that public intellectuals (ie, people who wish to influence the way people think) should be strategic in "persuading Google" to make their work more visible:

A few months ago, I posted a short assessment of Raymond Williams’s career on my blog. I deliberately titled the page “Raymond Williams” to persuade Google to rank the page highly for people searching using the key words “Raymond Williams.” After it went online, a few other bloggers linked to the page. Within two weeks, if you searched Google using the key word “Raymond Williams,” my little riff showed up as the No. 6 result, behind a Wikipedia entry, a museum bio and a few scholarly papers.

I'm familiar with this strategy of influencing Google, but for the first time it struck me as one of the missing pieces in the teaching of argumentative writing. It's all fine and good to teach people to write persuasive messages (although I'm being somewhat generous here: fine and good for what? is there only one kind of argument, etc. etc.), but what if no one ever reads the message? Isn't the teaching of discrete text production somewhat limited and out of date? (And haven't we known that for some time?) Don't we need to be teaching something about the circulation of texts, something about what Jenny calls rhetorical ecologies? And might the art of influencing Google be one way of teaching it? (Please, no knee-jerk reactivity here: of course I'm not suggesting that we turn first-year comp over to the art of influencing Google. It's just one example of one thing we don't teach that we might, if we want to offer a fuller picture of how texts influence people, or what texts do in the world.)

So as I'm thinking about this early in the week, I take a drive to the grocery store. And on the sidewalk along one of Columbia's major thoroughfares, I see a fellow, gray-haired, with a cane, walking slowly and wearing a sandwich placard. Instantly, I see that the placard says "VOTE NO," but I have to look carefully to see for sure what it's asking me to vote no on. (It's Amendment 2, which would affirm the use of stem-cell research in Missouri. Speaking of manipulating Google: two sponsored links are at the top of the page when I did a search, both offering to let me in on the "deceptions" of this Amendment. One was sponsored by a church.).

A placard. One body. Along the road. Were there other placard carriers on other streets? Was he a lone text, seeking nonetheless to participate in the circulation of the same discourse that purchased the sponsored spaces on Google?

Because, for all the limits of his retro technology (hard to see, doesn't travel far) it still depends on linking up with the circulation of that discourse apart from his body.

Still, that placard carrier intrigued me. Walking slowly. As if out for a stroll. Not looking at the street, not gesturing to attract attention. Just walking. Bearing his text. Almost a litote in motion.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Let them write blog

I found the link on Nels's blog, and I'm going for it:

Post to the blog every day for the month of November. (It's National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo.)

When I first started up this blog lo these many months ago (February 2005, more or less), I made a point of writing every day. Over the months and year(s), I've been less committed. I'm recommitting! Who's with me?

It's all about the rhythm. About being generative. Not worrying (do I sound smart enough??). Just writing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Keri's studying high school blogging for her dissertation, and the class got some press.

One student says,

"It's a hard book. I've got 10 times a greater understanding with this blog."

That's one of the things I noticed this past summer with the blog in my women's literature class: students realized they could learn from each other on the blog. You would think students would learn from each other during class discussion just as well, but it seems as though blogging frees people up--it doesn't seem like the same competitive space that a classroom can sometimes seem (or that even listservs can sometimes seem).

Anyway, way to go, Keri!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cat treeing

We have a few cats. Adding vertical space is good when you have a few cats. Still, we put off the purchase of a tree. We wanted to get a good solid tree, one that wouldn't fall over or apart. But the better the tree, the more money to shell out, so we kept not buying.

Finally, we bought. It isn't a super-tall tree, which would be fun to have, but it has three levels and a little tunnel with a hole in the side on top.

It's a great success for rest and play. Just take a look.

Simon, Gabe, the tree Oct 06

Simon's head through the tree hole

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some science

I always look forward to Tuesday so that I can read the science section of the NY Times. It's the geek in me.

In today's news, a photo of the (drumroll please) RESEARCH REACTOR here at my institution. It's a lovely shade of blue. Apparently, museums and archaeologists are using it to study sculpture and other artifacts at the atomic level.

And, what I really wanted to tell you but thought I should put it below the fold since it's on the same topic as my last entry, is this:

Meditating is just as good as coffee!
(If the goal is to be alert.)

Feeling tired but have work to do? Think you should take a nap? Forget about it! Sit yourself down and follow your breath for 40 minutes. Napping just makes you fuzzy. Meditation focuses the attention.

But I love this last sentence from the little news item in the Times:

They said they did not know if caffeine and meditation combined would be even better.

What wonders of alertness await us! Drink coffee! Follow your breath! Get things done!

Because, you know, I'm not planning to give up coffee. Not anytime soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Change your brain

Yesterday I attended a lecture on "Zen and the Brain." It was geared toward psychiatry residents, so it was at once familiar (giving an overview of what meditation is) and difficult (using clinical terms to talk about the brain).

But basically, there's this: meditation changes your brain. Literally.

There's been a good bit of research on this lately, headed up by a professor at UW-Madison.

I'm really taken with this idea that the brain can change, but maybe not everyone is. Last semester in my blogging class, for instance, a student brought up an article about the possibility of emplanting chips in the brain as a treatment for neurological disorders. Some heated discussion followed: folks weren't too keen on the idea of altering the brain, which, to most of them, seemed to be the most basic unit of the thing called self. (Of course, meditation is all about getting rid of that notion.)

In any case, the idea of altering the brain, for them, was tantamount to fundamentally altering who you are. And that seemed wrong.

(But then KR assured us these chips weren't likely to be available any time soon, so no worries.)

Me, though, I'm quite happy to change my brain. I find it really freeing to know my brain isn't set for the rest of my life.

It's the old plasticity thing that I've blogged about before. I even like that word. Plasticity. Because, you know, they talk about the plastic arts.

So meditation is a plastic art. With the brain as medium.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Missing people

Back when I was still in graduate school, I had a somewhat subdued sense of missing folks who left the program, got a job, or otherwise went away. And when I left one graduate program and took up with another one, it was the same. As it was when I left graduate school for my first job. Everyone leaves graduate school at some point, so you can't really feel too sad about not being around the same people all the time. Sure, you miss people, but you know that forever just isn't going to happen.

So why is it so sad to leave colleagues when you move from one job to the next? Of course, it isn't sad to leave some colleagues. It's good riddance to some. But the ones you like, the ones who made the job bearable--those ones are hard to leave.

And so I just had lunch with two of the folks from Carbondale who helped enriched my life there. They were in Columbia for a few hours, dropping off one of their progeny, who attends MU. And now they're gone, and I feel sad.

Which isn't to say I don't have folks here who I would no doubt miss equally if I or they were to leave. It's just to say, it was so good to see them, so good to talk, and, right now, I'm feeling their absence pretty keenly.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Systems systems systems

Getting away from my superstition from last time, let me add now that my breakthrough was finally seeing the really big picture. Because my book isn't just about management qua management, because management isn't just management (as it's been represented in rhet/comp, whether it's certain kinds of leftists who says it's bad because it's capitalist or the other people who say WPAs aren't managers, dammit). Management is a function that, as James Beniger says, became important because of a "crisis of control," a crisis that emerged with the information economy.

That's still not saying much, is it? And then there's this: when am I going to get around to reading Latour?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I shouldn't be so superstitious. But the truth is that I worry that when I write about some "breakthrough" I've had in working on my book, that I basically jinx everything and end up five steps or so behind.

Like last time, when I wrote about the great first line I came up with. Yeah, I wrote it down and all, but I don't believe it's going to be the first line, after all. And I'm still not telling what it is/was.

So I'm hesitant to talk about the little a-ha moment I just had, a little moment that finally allowed me to see a way of bringing together the old stuff with some new stuff.

And so that's really all I'm saying.

And this: even though the great first line got abandoned, it did get me going. So it's not like it was a waste.

Good to remember these things.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Historic cats (and dogs, and other companions)

Via metafilter, a wonderful website: Pets in America.

I've just begun to browse, but so far my favorite item is the photo album of cats, with images dating back to the late nineteenth century. I just love the idea that, even when the technology was new, people were using it to create keepsakes of their companion animals. In some cases, the images record cats with a particular claim to fame, like extra toes. Or, in this case, extra weight:

The handwriting along the bottom reads:
"Tiger Summers, Weighs 18 pounds 3 oz."

From W.A. Judson, photographer - New Britain, Connecticut
Carte-de-visite, 1865-1870

I love the way the cat is posed in a chair, apparently to provide the sense of heft (look how he fills out that chair!). But must be a child's chair.

More delights await you. Check it out.

Learning to love Google book

When Google book was first launching, I did a little search for something or other, didn't find it, and decided that it was a limited tool that didn't much interest me.

Somehow, I hadn't thought about old books. I hadn't thought about all those books I have to request from storage, renew at the desk rather than online, etc. It just hadn't occurred to me to check to see if they might be there, until, out of pure laziness, I looked. I just didn't want to have to bother to go to the circulation desk to recheck some texts. So I did a search, and found a goldmine.

Among the texts I found: Herbert Spencer's "Philosophy of Style," edited, with an introduction, by composition's own Fred Newton Scott. (The "Philosophy of Style" was a very popular text in required composition classes in the nineteenth century. Somehow, few people have noted this. Seems significant to me.)

And all I have to do is download the file, and then I can cut and paste from the pdf right into my notes. Pretty cool, huh?

Of course, at some point I'll have to actually key in some selections from the longer extracts. But that's ok. Right now, I'm just in love with these lovely little text images. Here's one from ol' Fred's introduction. In it, he argues that everyone who interprets Spencer to emphasize the importance of economizing words for the sake of individual economy has it wrong. What Spencer is really saying, says Fred, is that we have to take the corporate body into account:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Grocery shopping paranoia

In this installment of the Paranoid Shopper, our reluctant yet intrepid anti-heroine finds herself in one of her favorite places, spending loads of money, hauling off bags of goods.

And, as she loads the sturdy paper bags into her trunk, marveling at the sunny yet cool Missouri afternoon, she is transfixed by one question:

How does Trader Joe's manage to do what it does? Surely some unfair labor practices must be involved?

Not that she's ever heard anyone make this accusation of good ol' Joe. No. It's just the hermeneutics of suspicion that she can't seem to shake. Something this good must come with some substantial suffering.

Because, as we know, Walmart sells cheap because it pays cheap. So how can Trader Joe's, with its lovely loaves of challah, its nicely priced French Roast coffee--how can Trader Joe's, even as it trades on class distinction, be different?

And so she wonders, and so she worries.

The challah, all the same, fried up into some might fine French toast for her breakfast this morning. She's happy that Trader Joe's exists, and only a 90-minute drive from her home. She wonders what to do with her residual paranoia. And so she writes.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wait for the DVD?

Tonight at about 6:45 central time, I realized that if I changed my plans, didn't go where I planned to go at 7:00, but instead stayed home and finished Season 2, Disc 6, we could in fact tune in for the season premiere, all caught up.

And so I stayed home. What can I say? I had to keep up with my fellow bloggers, didn't I? And C, who has never felt the same about TV since the X-Files ended, was happy to come along for the ride. After the first episode, back in August sometime, he was hooked.

But, goodness. Do you know what it is to binge for weeks, episode after episode, commercial-free? And then to be dropped into prime-time, with the narrative all broken up? And nothing more to see until next week, when you're used to being able to move right away to the next episode?

Said C: Let's just wait for the DVD. I can't take it.

Don't worry, gentle reader. I think we can cope.

So the Others live in some sort of alternative-dimension planned community? Hmmm.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


After reading this NY Times article about a ful stand in Cairo (only $.20/bowl!), I asked C., wanna go to Egypt? (He's ambivalent.)

I'm not sure that I've even ever had ful. Kinda seems like the Sufi-run middle-eastern restaurant in Carbondale might have called their lentil soup "ful." But did it really have fava beans in it? Have I ever even had fava beans?

It just sounds so tasty. Creamy, long cooked beans. Spices. A little hot pepper.

I even think I could eat it for breakfast, like they do (apparently) in Cairo. But dinner would also be good.

Must be the fall that's getting to me. Beans. Stews. Hearty foods. They're sounding good.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A week (or more) of sneezes

This past week, I was consumed with sneezing.

I woke up sneezing most days last week. It's the fall, leaves are molding and ragweed is dispersing. Although I don't remember seasonal allergies when I lived in Texas, they've come on a bit over the years that I've lived in the midwest.

But, really, it isn't my sneezing that consumed me. The cats. The cats. They've been sneezing.

First, it was Simon. (It's his one-year anniversary with us today! Happy anniversary, Simon!) He took a trip to the vet for the yearly check-up and vaccinations. Couple of days later, he was sneezing.

I suspect it was the vaccinations that lowered his immune system and allowed a dormant virus to "shed." But Simon is young and hardy, so it was no big deal. A couple of days of sneezing, a little extra sleep, and he was back to his old self.

In the meantime, though, Gabe got a little frustrated. He likes to get into a good tussle with Simon at least a couple of times a day, if not more, and one day Simon just wasn't in the fighting mood. So Gabe tried to start something with Clyde. Yes, Clyde. The elder member of our household (he's 20--that's 96 or so in human years).

Of course, Clyde has no interest in fighting this little upstart. So when trying to avoid him while going down the stairs one evening, he fell. That was no small upset. Elder beings should not fall. He began limping, so we took him to the vet, who diagnosed some inflammation to an already inflamed joint (Clyde has pretty bad arthritis). A few days later, he was limping less, walking more like his usual self.

But the sneezing hadn't wreaked all its havok yet. Casey started sneezing. Hacking, really. It sounded pretty awful. At 7 or so, Casey is a middle-aged fellow, but he's got immunity issues. So after a couple of days of pretty severe congestion, he got a trip to the vet, too. (Casey is not a fan of the vet. Or the car trip. Or the carrying case. He is not a scratcher or a biter, but he fought pretty hard on the way into the carrier. Legs splayed out, claws curling around the doorway. It was a sad sight to see. Pure panic.)

The day after Casey went to the vet, Clyde started the hacking. Now they're both still sniffling and sneezing, and it's been almost a week.

So send some good thoughts to the cat gods, would you? Clyde especially has had a hard week, a double dose of misery. He needs a clear nose so he can resume the blissful sniffing of catnip.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

For Ann

The Baylor Alumni Association sends its alums a free magazine every year or so, even if they aren't members. I got mine this weekend, and this morning while flipping through it, casually over breakfast, something caught my eye. A brief story: Ann Miller died last month.

Ann Miller directed my undergraduate honors thesis. But I'm just a drop in a bucket. Ann Miller is a legend at Baylor. Everyone has an Ann Miller story. She held forth in class, reciting literature from memory, never using a book. Her intensity scared off some students, who called her "Killer Miller." She was known for "swooping down" on students on campus, to direct some intense question or instruction at them. Or maybe just to touch her nose to yours, say your name, leaving you mildly amused, mildly startled, mildly touched.

She was, as they say, a character. When I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, years after leaving Baylor, I recognized Ann Miller. Calling on a student, out of the blue, to recite a poem, announcing the deep need for poetry in life:
"It lifts one up," Miss Brodie usually said . . . "Where there is no vision . . . the people perish."

Miss Brodie was a bit of a fascist. But that's not what I mean. Instead, this: a charisma. A quality, not a thing.

Her obituary leaves no trace of the year she was born. I remember fellow students speculating on her age, and I have to say I became somewhat fascinated with the question myself. Energy poured out of her--she seemed beyond age. The last time I saw her, several years back when I was interviewing for a position at Baylor, she radiated as brightly as ever. At dinner, she leaned close to me, whispering in her deep voice, leaving the men at the table to talk among themselves. She announced that she wanted Madeleines for dessert. Does that mean anything to you, she asked, testing me. Yes, I assured her, yes.

And clearly she wanted to be ageless, because she's not telling, not even now.

And I'm not telling my Ann Miller story, either. It takes place in Fort Worth, not in Waco, after a Yevgeny Yevteshenko reading at the Caravan of Dreams. My friend (and fellow Miller groupie) Melanie was there, along with another Baylor student. We were poetry fanatics. Ann Miller was convinced Yevteshenko looked at her, straight at her. Maybe he did.

So I'm not telling my story. I'm keeping it with me. Instead of a story, I offer this poem, one of her favorites. For Ann.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

--Mary Oliver, from American Primitive

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Getting the economic into the political

You know, I love reading Steven Shaviro's blog, especially when he's doing the amazing work there that seems pretty rare in today's scholarly conversations--bringing together threads that tend to stay separate, threads that I am especially interested in trying to keep together. Most recently, he offers "rough comments about politics and economics — or what used to be called (and probably should be called again) political economy." But his is (of course) no "vulgar Marxism"--he's so skillful at pulling from Marx what is and isn't useful and at noticing the limitations of those who may vaguely invoke Marx without really doing economics. Here's a long quote, but I like it, so I'm putting it all here:

I am inclined to agree with Fredric Jameson (though I cannot find the exact citation) that the specific difference of a Marxist approach is precisely that it focuses on economy rather than on politics. You don’t need Marxist theory to do a political reading of contemporary culture — such a political approach is precisely what characterizes Cultural Studies in the US and the UK. But Cultural Studies generally elides political economy: it may mention “class” in a sociological sense (as in: how people define their own class status, and how they regard groups whose status is higher or lower than themselves); but it almost never looks at the systematics of exploitation and capital accumulation. It may well denounce “neoliberalism” in general terms, but it almost never thinks about how the Market has become the horizon of thought today, the a priori that is so deeply embedded in the background of everything we think and do, so taken for granted, that we scarcely even remember that it is there.

Indeed, yes. Part of the problem with *some* critiques of the "corporate university" is that these critiques are simply political--they denounce the encroachment of expanding bureaucracies and shrinking faculties, but they rarely look at the economics that have made this situation possible. (An excellent exception is Slaughter and Leslie's Academic Capitalism, which offers a good overview of economic factors that have led to these changes.) Or, perhaps the problem is that when this critique gets taken up in composition studies, it loses its economic force (and so, as Mike points out, no one *really* talks about economics). As a result, a book like this one I blogged about earlier in the year can seem almost like a revelation: it *does* talk about economics. The only problem is, it doesn't quite seem to get the political part. So it ends up saying that composition studies is too dominated by socialist economics, when really the problem is that it hasn't had any real economic talk at all.

And, ultimately, that's part of the problem with the talk (insofar as there *is* talk) about the "managerial" in composition studies. On the one hand, the critique of the managerial is almost wholly a political critique, one that aligns the managerial with a vague "capitalism" or "neoliberalism," and so goes for broad strokes that people in the field too easily dismiss. On the other hand, that dismissal misses the point: um, yeah: as administrators, we *are* embedded in market relations. So let's think about that. Let's not just accept it as the given. Let's figure out how we got here. Let's see what other kinds of choices might be available.

So one of the things I appreciate about Shaviro is the amazing path he treads, the way he doesn't go for the easy critique but instead works his way through what is. Part of what is is the postmodern, something that some folks I like well enough also wish to dismiss as irrelevant or an illusion. Things change, friends. And so we call these recent changes "postmodernism" or "network society" or "information economy." That doesn't mean we're waving good-bye to the economic or to the critique of capitalism. Shaviro is one of the few people I know of who is thoroughly postmodern *and* thoroughly critical. That seems important--working with *all* that's out there. Seems strategic, rhetorical, and even humble (to harken back to yesterday's idea of keeping a certain level of "don't know mind"--by which I mean a certain level of openness). Not to mention smart.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Administrative evil?

Yesterday my colleague S gave a response to a book on administrative evil. I haven't read the book myself, but S pointed out, rightly, I think, that it's difficult to label a function as "evil," even as it may facilitate "evil" ideologies. The problem's in the ideology, not so much in the function itself.

Kind of like rhetoric, eh?

But this idea of administrative evil reminded me of my recent discovery of the intense interest among certain ideologues in a pretty obscure book called Philip Dru, Administrator. Written by Edward Mandell House, a kind of Karl Rove to Woodrow Wilson, the novel tells the story of a benevolent dictatorship of the USA that sets up a Progressivist social agenda.

C told me about this book, which he encountered in a grad class back in the day. We own a copy, which has been reprinted by some strange right wing press. Given my interest in all things managerial, this book has long attracted me, though I've yet to find a way to write about it. Still, I did a little Google search the other day to see if anyone else was talking about it, and it was then I discovered the OBSESSION. Do the search yourself, you'll see. The first hit is a talk radio show in Austin, with a libertarian host taking on the role of Dru as he conducts interviews. Someone even has done up a myspace profile for the author, where he is found talking about his "friends" Stalin and Lenin.

Seems as though for those of a certain political bent, the book represents all that is wrong with America--a "collectivist" agenda that is, in the words of the Austin radio host, "dramatically at odds with the principles of individual liberty upon which our Constitution is based." It's almost like the smoking gun, the piece of evidence that establishes once and for all that the US really is off course, that there is a vast "collectivist" conspiracy, and that raising consciousness about this novel will somehow change things.

I find the paranoid attention paid to this very unabsorbing novel simultaneously bizarre and eye-opening. I saw a fairly well known person in composition give a talk once in which he used a scene from the Matrix--where Neo has "seen" reality and subsequently vomits from the profundity of the revelation--as a kind of "jab" at critical pedagogues who think they're mission is something like that: to pull off the veil of obscurity and reveal reality, in all its stomach-churning intensity. All this attention to Philip Dru, a curious little novel, sort of reminds me of that--and sort of reminds me of the importance of a little bit of humility. What the Zen folks call "Don't Know Mind."

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's 72 degrees

With just enough sun, no humidity to speak of. Pretty much perfection, I would say.

Say, did I mention we're hiring? Take a look.

I'll be happy to answer questions, take suggestions, what have you. But, really: it's the perfect day today in Columbia, Missouri. Don't let *that* go unnoticed.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Some randomness on poetry and the visual (and who knows what else)

I'm all too quick to compare anything that I like to poetry, but I'm about to do it again. Here goes:

Graphic novels remind me of poetry.

Granted, my experience is limited. But I've been binging a wee bit (as I promised I would), and of the four I've read in the last month or so, I would say they all share a poetry-like quality of understatedness. They're much less like novels (if when you think of novels you think of things like Pride and Prejudice and Portait of a Lady). As C said when I was talking up graphic novels one day, a graphic novel of a Henry James novel would be really boring. For pages, the pictures would all be the same.

Because graphic novels are (of course) more imagistic than the psychological novel or the novel of manners. They depend on the visual for resonance. There's a plot, sure, but the plot almost doesn't matter. It's what happens, what you can see that matters.

Of course, I'm totally talking out of my league here. Like I said, I'm not graphic novel expert. Haven't read up on the criticism or anything. All I'm really going for here is an observation I hinted at a few posts back: of course I'm visually oriented. I may not have great visual meta-language as yet, but it's so clear that my belief that I've long had that I'm almost purely alphabetically based is so much hogwash. I mean, yeah, I'm very oriented toward phonetic language. But clearly the visual seeps under my skin, your skin. Can't be helped.

And I find it interesting to think about this in relation to my longtime orientation toward poetry. Truth be told, I rarely find the time to read new poetry, and I certainly almost never write it any more. I can't even remember the last time I wrote poetry. But it's so clearly a visually-oriented medium. Traditional forms of poetry depend on the evocation of images. But even experimental forms depend on the visual impact of the graphic text.

All the more reason to continue to work on my ability to talk about it--to use words and concepts to makes sense of something whose affect/effect is prior to all that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I mentioned that I went through all my notebooks and labeled all the notes I've taken over the past five or six years as a way to get myself organized for writing. Now I need to do a similar thing for blog posts. If I had been tagging (which is possible on blogger, with a little hack plus, I wouldn't have to worry. But I didn't like the little hack and took it off. So now I have to search when I need to find something I wrote on my own blog that might actually be useful as I'm getting the book into shape.

In order to have relevant posts more readily accessible, I will link to them here, (maybe) with annotations. I'll start today but will continue to add as time allows.

Railroading comp
It's all about management, friends
Emergence: Writing, information, administration
Managerial Epidemics
Romance of the free market

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Two good things

Yesterday, I received page proofs for an article I wrote 3-4 years ago (but which saw its first incarnation as a paper at a conference five years ago in--believe it or not--Decatur, IL). Thank the gods, I thought. It's finally going to see the light of day. (I'm sure the editors of the book, too, are thanking the gods.) And as I was proofreading it, I discovered that I had in fact mentioned (though not cited) John Dewey. So there you go. I *did* make use of Dewey. In some fashion.

And today, in my inbox: an invitation to Cs. I'll be talking about argument hope, something I blogged about last spring.

So it all comes around. (Or something equally wise and ponderous.) Congrats to those who've also been invited. See you in New York.