Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reason? Argument? Anybody?

I'm interested in trying to pull together some (to me) related threads out there: threads on political emotion, argument, and the future of something called "composition." OK?

Last week, in a comment thread with Bill, I mentioned a study by Emory researchers that was briefly covered in the New York Times: self-described Republicans and Democrats were shown quotations of both George Bush and John Kerry making two mutually contradictory statements:

After the participants read the contradictory comment, the researchers measured increased activity in several areas of the brain. They included a region involved in regulating negative emotions and another called the cingulate, which activates when the brain makes judgments about forgiveness, among other things. Also, a spike appeared in several areas known to be active when people feel relieved or rewarded. The "cold reasoning" regions of the cortex were relatively quiet.

The conclusion reached by the researchers:
the new research suggests that for partisans, political thinking is often predominantly emotional.

As Jon asks, taking up the study on his blog, what's the big deal?
But of course political habits are about affective fixes; and political responses are affectively conditioned before they are reasoned--or even ideological--judgements. No great surprise or scandal there.

And yet,
the reception of this study among some left-leaning bloggers has indeed been to see scandal. At Alas(A Blog), Ampersand suggests that this study demonstrates that "partisanship makes everyone stupid."

(Now, if by "stupid" we mean something like the vulnerable, even ethical, stupidity that Avital Ronell points to, the stupidity that signals a limit--well, ok. There might be something to pursue there. But that's not likely the spin being put on it here.)

At any rate, some interesting comments follow, including exchanges between Jon and a defender of rationality in the public sphere, someone who, on his web site, refers to debate.

And this debate reference put me in mind again of John's recent post about argument, where he reminds us that
Agonistic discourse in the form of productive debate is always problematic outside of face-to-face communication (and when too ritualized, such as with current US Presidential Debates, it's not that productive face-to-face, though one could argue they're not engaged in face-to-face oral communication).

The origins of rhetorical argument, as we all know, harkens back to ritualized face-to-face oral discourse practices of Antiquity, and that these practices, in one form or another, were a regular feature of education into the 20th Century (Ong, among others, treats this in detail in Fighting for Life). We've made do in written mediums, but written discourse isn't the best medium for debate (though various writing technologies have differing affordances and constraints).

And isn't part of what's productive about face-to-face oral debate the bodily/affective dimensions? Aren't we missing that whole dimension, reduced down to a bare-bones understanding of something called emotional appeals? As if we can only add on emotion, as if the heart of "argumentation" is something else: namely, logic.

And that's why I find the whole business of teaching argumentation so unsatisfying. We can teach students to do this paper-version of a dance (to follow templates, even), but, in doing so, we transmit a pretty fallacious (if I may invoke informal logic) sense of human dynamics--one that omits the affective and levels the field to one dimension. I'm not saying that learning the paper moves can't come in handy--I'm just saying that it's a kind of learning that cuts off what really moves us. And ultimately it's a kind of arrogant education, one that claims to offer the answer to how to win friends and influence people.

I'm going to close it here for now. I thought I would move to Alex's entry on "terminal composition," (which was itself a response to an entry from Jeff's blog, as was John's entry) but that will have to wait.

This day in history

After a banal Senate vote that may lead to truly evil outcomes, let's remember a better vote (this time by the House) on this day, 141 years ago:
1865 House passes the 13th Amendment.

The History Channel: a way to brighten your day by remembering better ones. And remembering that even bad votes in the past (States Rights!) can be transformed in the future.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Not my childhood public library

My colleagues R and M and I have begun a writing support group: we meet up at the Public Library on Friday morning and we write. (Yeah, that's where I am now. And I'm writing. See?)

But this public library, friends, is a snazzy place. We're in our own study room, with barrister lamps and wifi access. And a nice postmodern architectural style:

This is nothing like the public libraries of my childhood in Weatherford.

At first, when I was still in elementary school, it was nothing more than an old brick building that was, I think, originally something else.

Then the new one was built. It seemed fancy. It may not, however, look fancy to you:

And it was practically in my back yard! Oh, modern innovation! Oh, celebrity! (A bronze statue of Mary Martin as Peter Pan graced the entrance. And Mary Martin came to town for the dedication!)

Yes, a representational statue of a representation. That was the library of my childhood. Not this:

It's not my childhood public library. And it's a good thing, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

That's why they call it *a*synchronous

So I met with my women's lit students in a computer classroom today: wanted to get them going with the wiki, which we'll start working with on a more committed basis next week. Since I had them all there, I said, hey, go ahead and edit that first page. Add your blog URL to it.

Yeah. Bad idea. The wiki wasn't prepared to process so many edits at once: it couldn't keep up. Plus, different people were editing different versions of the homepage, depending on when they happened to click "edit." So if they were editing an older version of the page but were the last to finish editing, then the older version appeared when they were finished. All the new edits (except the last person's) were gone to the history file.

Not that any of this is terribly interesting, unless you too are starting to use a wiki and had the bright idea to get your whole class to edit one page at the same time. And not that it was a terrible moment, except that I had to tell them to stop, stop please, and do it later. We moved on to the discussion board (which is pretty primitive, I have to say), which is able to take many users at once.

And now that I've written it down, perhaps I'll remember it the next time I use a wiki.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Remember, you are *not* employees

Remember that, all you graduate teaching assistants. You are not employed by the university that gives you a small check every month. The check is something like a gift. As is, apparently, your labor.

And, following Bourdieu, we know that even gift exchange is subject to economic laws. So you withdraw your labor, they withdraw their small envelope of money.

If you want the news version, it's here.

What I actually find almost more distressing than the university's behavior (which is really pretty standard and unsurprising in these days of universities following the lead of corporations), is that the labor movement has yet to find a strategy to take the place of striking, which seems especially ineffective for contingent academic workers.

Obsession, part 1: cat food

Readers of this blog will know that I have a bit of an obsession with my cats. And while it may make some readers look away, that's just too bad. And while I do try to keep the cat-oriented entries to only once every other week or so, sometimes I exceed my quota. It happens. I'm fond of my cats.

So fond, indeed, that the obsession goes way beyond posting pictures of them. On my computer desk, for intance, I have a printout of canned cat food, arranged in ascending order by phosphorous content. (You can get your own printout here.)Also included are the percentages for protein, fat, and sodium.

I keep it on my computer desk so that I can ponder it from time to time before ordering a new batch of cat food every few weeks or so. The phosphorus numbers (along with the protein numbers and, to a lesser degree, the sodium numbers) are important for cats in renal failure, and Clyde is in the very early stages of what can be a pretty awful disease. (It's CRF that led to Kitty's death last December.)

So I've been obsessed with the right food for CRF cats for some time. Last fall, in addition to the CRF catfood obsession, I was deep into research on hypoallergenic food. Casey came to us with various ailments (the details of which I'll spare you), and the diagnosis was food allergies. Cats apparently can develop food allergies after repeated exposure to some food ingredient. The trouble is, it's hard to know which one. So the strategy is to feed them food that isn't commonly included in cat food: used to be lamb, but that's become too common. Now it's venison or rabbit. And even the carbohydrate ingredient needs to be unique. So, here's what I found:

That's right: venison and green pea. Hey, it's better than the original Prescription Diet hypoallergenic formula, which contains something called "hydrolyzed chicken," brougnt into being through "a process that eliminates animal intact proteins and significantly reduces the possibility of an adverse reaction to food." Yeah. I may be a vegetarian, but I'd prefer my cats get real protein, thanks. (And Hill's, the maker of Prescription Diet foods, has recently introduced D/D: Rabbit and Green Pea. So maybe they had the same thought.)

All right, then. That's one obsession. Cat food. Maybe I'll blog about another obsession in the future. (Hence the tantalizing title: Part 1.)I know my readers will be holding their breath. The anticipation.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Charles Reznikoff

As Ron Silliman notes, a review of the collected shorter poems of Charles Reznikoff appeared in Sunday's NYTimes Book Review.

Back when I was a poet/lit scholar, I imagined myself writing some sort of dissertation that would include Reznikoff. I was especially taken with his two-volume poem Testimony, a collection of what might be called "found" poems taken directly from legal documents. It's divided up first into years (1885-1890, 1891-1900, 1901-1910, 1911-1915), then into regions ("The South," "The North," sometimes "The West"), and then into simple categories ("Social Life," "Domestic Scenes," "Boys and Girls," "Machine Age," "Property,") that are further subdivided by number.

Here's #1 under "Social Life," "The South," 1885-1890:
The day had been dark and rainy,
and she and Fuller were sitting by the fire
late in the evening
in an old house on the mountain
about fifty yards from the road.
They had a bottle of whiskey between them
and had been drinking,
and Fuller was singing, "The Drunkard's Doom." (15)

In his review, Joshua Clover asserts that each of Reznikoff's short poems
is a sort of American haiku, albeit no more impressionistic than a hand-operated printing press.

This haiku-like quality is clear enough even in the parts of the longer poem. But as a long poem, it also works by accumulation and repetition, even as the distinction of each detail matters. For example, Volume 1 of Testimony includes a somewhat disturbing number of railroad accidents, like this one:

There were three on the locomotive:
the flagman, the fireman, and the engineer.
About two hundred yards from the man--
the flagman commenced ringing the bell;

within about a hundred yards
the engineer commenced sounding his whistle:
thirty or forty short blows.

The man did not get off the track or look around. (31)

It's poetry as documentary, but also poetry as design. While the words are "found," they are also arranged, chosen. The critical power of this poetry comes not through ideology-critique but through affect: the words and images are neither offering a "message" nor pointing outside themselves to a symbolic realm, but they do have an affective impact in their starkness.

And, as I'm teaching working-class women's literature this semester, I want to help my students with the way of reading poetry that Reznikoff's writing calls for.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Once more with the meta

Jenny says (in a wonderfully rich post that I want to come back to) that she isn't usually given to blogging about blogging, which reminds me once again how much I *am* given to it, and, indeed, how the very mention of it seems to send me into something of a Pavlovian dog-like response to do it some more. I've agonized here before about why that is, so I won't do it again. It's all there in the archives somewhere.

Anyway, what I was reminded of today in reading her entry was how much I've learned from my "blogpeeps" (as Jenny calls them), and how Collin, in a recent entry, helped me not to feel guilty about it. (I'm given to feelings of guilt: it's the gender-first-generation-college-student-growing-up-evangelical thing, and proximate off-bloggers tend to think blogging is something akin to, well, you know.)

Writing about the variety of forms reading can take, Collin says,

because we love to read, and we do it a lot, we're slow to realize that there are different kinds of reading (this is the Moretti link for me, btw), and that different tasks require those various kinds. For example, here are four approaches that I might have taken to Latour's book:

  • read the thing cover-to-cover, as I'm doing now
  • do a power skim, reading 1st and last pages of each chapter, and topic sentences
  • read a review or two of it from relevant journals
  • wait for Clay to read it, and to review it on his site

I don't know how many of us would describe all four activities as reading, but I think I would. I might have to resort to air quotes on a couple of them,but I don't necessarily believe that close, word-by-word reading is the only kind of reading you must do when your director tells you to "read everything." In the same way that you might "read" people or "read" a conversational dynamic, for the sake of sanity, you have to "read" your field.

As I've said before, Collin is my guru, and I love the way he consistently offers ways of dealing with the glut of information that our culture and our positions as academics call us to deal with. It's not that I don't love the glut of information (I was the geeky little girl who read encyclopedias--some of the only non-devotional, non-Golden books in my home growing up), and it's not that I don't want to read them all cover-to-cover (hence my impossibly long amazon.com wishlist). But, let's get real: you can't read everything that way. Collin provides a very useful and non-crazy-making way of thinking about other actions as reading, including the reading of other people's reading on blogs.

So, yes. That's another wonderful thing about blogs: the circulation of information, the circulation of ideas. Thanks, blogpeeps.

Friday, January 20, 2006

It's Friday

Time for a nice pile-o-cats.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Surprised while blogging

OK, I really *am* going to stop blogging today. It's just that while writing the last post (at Panera, where I'm currently fond of doing work), I looked up to see none other than Chris@WindFarm, who is in town to see his sister and team play Colorado tonight. It's always quite astonishing to see someone out of context. So, Chris, in case I seemed not sufficiently happy to see you, let me say: I was really happy to see you!

Just two additional notes on that: I tried to get some pictures of wind farms during my last drive through Illinois in December. I'll maybe post them. And Chris was good enough to introduce me to said sister, who was having a pre-game meal. Or snack. Or something. Me, I'm just drinking coffee and blogging. Apparently.

University President as Movie Star, Part 2

Lest you think my last post was a mere bit of nostalgic pop trivia (which, yes, it was that, too), let me assure you that I have scholarly interests in the Herman B Wells era. Herman B Wells and his peers led universities during the big boom of the post WWII era, the years that saw the advent of the multiversity (a term coined by Clark Kerr, another one of the boom-time administrators), the administratively-heavy institution that made way for today's managed university.

But I can't deny that my primary connection is a personal one.
Or, at the least, a kind of personal one. Being a border-generation kind of person, I was in college when these white-haired "great men" were still alive and lending a kind of old-world glow to the campuses that I attended. At Baylor, it was Abner McCall,

who I saw in a restaurant when I was visiting Waco as a high school student. (Yes, it's true. I thought it was really cool to see the chancellor of Baylor in a restaurant. I was from Weatherford, Texas. Other than the time I saw Mary Martin at the public library, I had never spotted a person in public who I had seen only in a photograph before. It's a small town, Weatherford.)

It's interesting that these men (and I would be curious to know if there were any women presidents during that time--I haven't done enough research to know) were truly iconic (to the point of having statues on campus--in addition to the Herman B Wells statue, there's the strange little Delyte Morris statue at Southern Illinios-Carbondale, where I formerly taught). Both McCall and Wells have a rags-to-riches sort of story chronicled in (auto)biographies.

Obviously, that's a different model of university leadership from the one that we have today, one that mirrors the general shift in career trajectories from one-job to many. But it's peculiarly fascinating to me that these men who were essentially big-time managers are given such adulation. Adulation that tends to cover-over the actual policies they implemented. (For an article that makes a similar point about Kerr's presidency, see Jeff Lustig's "The Mixed Legacy of Clark Kerr: A Personal View.")

So there's more I might explore and say here, but, really, I should be going. Maybe more later.

IUbessions; or, the College President as Movie Star

I have a couple of degrees from IU-Bloomington, so whenever it's in the news, I read about it. I'm not really that interested in this particular story (the current president, who has not been popular, will leave in two years and has recommended eliminating the position of chancellor at the Bloomington campus). But the president/chancellor thing makes me think of Herman B. Wells,

former IU president and permanent IU icon, and makes me ask this question:

Has any other university president appeared in so many movies?

OK, sure, he's only been in two. Once, he played himself. (That would be Breaking Away, filmed in Bloomington.) Once, he was a character portrayed by someone else. (That would be Kinsey, not filmed in Bloomington.)

And, even beyond the Herman B Wells question, has any other college town figured so prominently in pop culture? In addition to the two previously mentioned movies, there's also A Season on the Brink, featuring Bobby-Knight-as-character.

And, now that I look at the credits for that movie, I see that former IU President John Ryan was a character in that movie, and he also played himself in Breaking Away. So I guess he and Wells are tied for the honor of most movie appearances by a university president. IU and Bloogmington are the real stars.

All right, then. That's all I have to say. But, really, I'm asking: is it just my own bias toward IU, or is it really the case that it has an unusually high profile in pop culture?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Edu-blogging, the revised version

As mentioned in my last post, classes began today: I'm teaching an upper-division blogging class and a lower-division writing-intensive women's lit class. And I'm really going with the social software this semester. Sure, I've "used" blogs before, but I've never taught a whole class on blogging, and I've never had so much of the work of a class happen online (my women's lit students are each keeping a blog and are also working together on a wikispace). I feel like, after a year's worth of blogging, that I understand something about these technologies and their generative potential that I didn't really understand at this time last year, when I more or less thought of blogs as glorified paper journals.

And I need to remember, now, my own pretty rough thinking about blogs before I was myself blogging as I work with students who are new to these technologies. In my women's lit class, a few students knew about blogs (and one of those was in my class last spring, where she blogged). No one knew about wikis. S'awright. No big deal. I have to admit that I was expecting more bloggers in my blogging class. Turns out there's only a couple. S'awright. OK. That's what I'm here for, right? To teach.

And I'll keep in mind Barbara Ganley's latest entry, in which she talks about the ways that blogging often takes students in liberal arts classes by surprise:

Let's face it. Students come to the liberal arts not really wanting technology in the classroom--at least not initially, not to the degree that I shower them with. They want the convenience of it, sure, but the rest of it? Do they really want to blog to the class and beyond, putting their flawed work on display, discussing discussing discussing in public? Do they want to hear their own voices on the audio files embedded onto the blogs? Play around with Photoshop in a literature class? Create tag clouds in political science? Such exercises initially seem like add-ons or smack of high school to them--this isn't what a liberal arts college is all about, what they had imagined even when we make the pedagogy transparent, as my colleague Mary Ellen Bertolini is committed to doing. I have a reputation as the blogging teacher around here, so students know they're in for something different when they step into my class for the first time, but still they're skeptical, resistant even. They have romantic notions about the liberal-arts college life conjured through the stories of their parents, the movies, their high school teachers. Blogs and wikis; skypecasting, podcasting and digital storytelling might be fine in high school, but in college? Many students think not. Many think the magic of learning means to come under the spell of a charismatic, "brilliant" teacher whose lectures entertain and inform. Even in discussion classes, the students expect the teacher to do most of the talking--and indeed, if there were a study conducted, I bet most discussions classes are really call-and-answer sessions dominated by the teacher's questions and commentary.

This kind of classroom takes some getting used to--and teachers have to be okay with students feeling a bit off-kilter to begin with in the course (my students often liken their experience during the first couple of weeks to free-falling). But just wait until a student gets a chance to learn within a class using this technology effectively. I don't think my students will ever look at learning or their role in their education quite the same way again.

That bit about liberal arts students not coming to class expecting technology is so right-on. I think about myself as a college student: I took a "computer literacy" class under duress. An English professor (who wasn't even my professor, just a professor I happened to chat with at a social function) told me that computers were something I really should learn, that just majoring in English might not land me a job. Of course, I was full of myself and thought that *I* would not have trouble landing a job with an English degree since *I* was going to teach English. Harrumph. But I was also an insecure first-generation college student, so I was worried that maybe he was right. So I took the class. And learned basic computer programming, which was fun, and, which, as a lover of logic and geometry, I was good at. Too bad I never really followed up on that: I couldn't program anything now to save my life.

Anyhoo, it's useful to remember that even though it's the year 2006, the liberal arts often remain a refuge for those who would rather not deal with such things as technology. And so the job becomes one of performing their intractability, of performing technology as liberal art.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Yeah, that's right

I start teaching a blogging class tomorrow and I haven't even written a decent entry in weeks. (Months?) Some model I am.

I'll link up to the class blog tomorrow. And I'm also using a wiki for my women's lit writing-intensive class.

One thing I have to figure out is if it's possible to have the fullpost option without having that silly "Keep Reading" thing appear. To some extent, it motivates me to write a little more. But not today. So don't keep reading, please.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

One step beyond de-lurking

I never do these listy-memes because I fear revealing something truly laughable about myself. Plus I like to think my blog, although often cat-oriented, is really more about "serious" topics.

But Bill's doing it, Clancy's doing it, John's doing it. So I guess, in the spirit of being part of my blogging community, I'll give it a go. And, anyway, what's so bad about revealing the laughable? I like to laugh (see TV shows below).

But, after this, my next entry will be a serious one. Really. After all, the bloggers are getting restless.

Four Jobs You’ve Had In Your Life:

1. Phone interviewer for Indiana University's Center for Survey Research (And I hate talking on the phone to strangers. Hate it.)
2. Coder for Columbia Record and Tape Club
3. Sales Clerk at a Five and Dime
4. Secretary for the city of Milwaukee real estate department

(Five and Dime? Record and Tape Club? How old *are* you, Donna? That's what I get for being born in the year of the Beatles: I don't know what generation I'm in. I can't recognize myself as part of the Five and Dime generation. But there it is.)

Four Movies You Could Watch Over And Over:

1. The Year of Living Dangerously (despite the recent strangeness of Mel Gibson)
2. O Brother, Where Art Thou
3. Daughters of the Dust
4. Um. I don't know. Something with lots of fancy visual stuff. LIke, I *have* watched the Matrix more than once. And Fellowship of the Rings. And the original Star Wars.

Four Places You’ve Lived:

1. Weatherford, TX (a brick ranch house on Keechi St. mostly)
2. Bloomington, IN(an apt. on N. Grant St. by the Stadium, a little one on Dunn, another one on S. Grant St, and finally a great old pre-war apartment on 2nd St.)
3. Milwaukee, WI (2244 N. Prospect mostly. Sigh. I miss it.)
4. Marcy Village in Indianapolis. (Probably the.worst.apartment.ever, though I won't go into details as to why.)

Four TV Shows You Love To Watch:
See, here's the thing: I don't have cable. So what can I watch? And I associate watching a lot of TV with being kind of depressed (at location #4 above, especially), because that's when I obsessively watch any show that will make me laugh (in Indianapolis: Hollywood Squares, Whose Line Is It Anyway, The Simpsons, Future-ama, and god knows what other totally forgettable shows.) Anyway, let's say I had cable and I did watch a lot of TV. I *think* I would watch:

1. The Daily Show
2. Lost
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm
4. The Simpsons

Four Places You’ve Been On Vacation:

1. Smokey Mountains National Park, TN
2. Eureka Springs, AR
3. Santa Fe, NM
4. Nashville, TN

(These are all vacations I took as a kid with my parents)

Four Blogs You Visit Daily:
See, this depends on who updates, doesn't it? Every day I look at my RSS feeds to see first if any folks in rhet/comp have updated, then I move to blogs at large. These tend to be the blogs that have updated daily and that I typically enjoy visiting daily:

1. Yellow Dog
2. Schenectady Synecdoche
3. Earth Wide Moth (before he went on a bit of a hiatus--but, hey, I'm one to talk)
4. And, yeah: whoever has updated. I mean, come on, I have a blogroll. What more do you want?

Four Of Your Favorite Foods:

1. Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate with dried fruit and nuts. Dark chocolate with a little bit of chili pepper. Dark chocolate. Mmm.
2. Pizza on whole wheat crust
3. Penang Curry with tofu and vegetables
4. really good veggie nori rolls

Four Places You’d Rather Be:

1. Chicago
2. Milwaukee
3. San Francisco
4. A real city, as long as it's not a weird sprawling city like Indianapolis. (Sorry Indy folks. I do like some things about it: Jazz Kitchen, Cafe Patachou, the Monon Trail.)

Four Albums You Can’t Live Without:

1. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
2. Dave Douglas, Charms of the Night Sky
3. Patricia Barber, A Fortnight in France
4. Johnny Cash, At San Quentin (I mean, really, who can live without "Ring of Fire," "I Walk the Line," "A Boy Named Sue?"--that last one always gave me a chuckle when I was a wee lass.)

Four Vehicles I’ve Owned:

1. A blue Impala (the old kind, though not the kind with the big wings)
2. A Pontiac 6000 (was it blue, too? I kinda think it was)
3. A red Ford of some kind
4. My current vehicle, a blue Ford Escort (1999, the last year they made 'em)

Four People To Be Tagged: I won't do that to you. If you feel so moved, you do it, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hey, you!

Yes, I mean you! It's De-Lurking week! This whole blog, as suggested above, is dedicated to de-lurking. I lurked for a whole year or more before I turned to responsible, open blogging. You can do it, too!

Start by leaving a comment here. You'll be glad you did. (Well, probably. I mean, it can't hurt, can it?)

Via Becky and Dr. B, the latter of whose blog I failed to comment on because I can't figure out how to use my drupal account there, despite her useful help page.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

You would think

I might know better than to stick my finger in the mouth of an old cat who is trying to quickly eat some non-food substance that he has found on the floor.

Apparently, however, I don't. He might be nineteen, but his teeth can still tear flesh pretty well.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mean poets

Back in the day, I thought I would be a poet. Got me an MFA and everything.

Doing the MFA was fun at times. Taking on the artiste persona and all. All I care about is poetry, I told people. In a world of cant, I proclaimed, lyric poetry, being the most distilled form of communication, is the only thing worth reading. It's the only thing worth living for.

Yeah, I really said those things. Believed them, even. What can I say? I was young.

But workshops, lord, were a horror. So many people (including me) so full of themselves. Can't take criticism. Can't give it, either, because they think only one kind of poem is possible.

The kind of poem that comes from what Ron Silliman calls "the school of quietude." You know the kind: nice images. Narrative approach. And it all comes round to making us feel more or less reaffirmed in our sense of ourselves as nice people with liberal beliefs.

So when I broke free of the school of quietude and tried on more experimental genres, my colleagues and teachers were not often kind. One teacher lectured me on the terrible consequences of anarchism. Sure, some poets romanticized the Spanish civil war, s/he told me. But the anarchists killed people.

That's right. The implications were clear: this kind of poetry (the kind that works away from referentiality--what was popularly called "language" poetry) is evil.

That same teacher even gave a lecture against such poetry during workshop one day. These people (language poets, you know) are trying to take over. They want to make poems like the kinds we like into bad poems. They want to destroy everything we work for.

Yeah. Intense paranoia. Weird s**t, man.

And so it comes as no surprise, I suppose, that this paranoia has not subsided over the decade or so that has passed since I was trying to do the experimental poetry dance. Ron Silliman himself is no strange to this kind of attack, and he recently posted a missive from a well-known poet on his blog. Again we hear the experimental-poet-as-evil trope:

And since you can't become Minister of Culture for Stalin or Mao, I suppose it's a good thing capitalism distributed a computer to you: it's important for eccentric losers like you to have something to do, otherwise they might actually find a way to put their "ideas" into practice, and start putting the real artists in concentration camps.

Weird, huh? The extraordinary fear of difference, of change.

Not that the field I adopted after poetry-writing is any more open to change. But at least, as far as I can tell, the names we call each other don't descend quite to the level of evil. More like irresponsible.

Or cute.

In other words, experimentation in rhetoric and composition seems to be more often dismissed than it is attacked. And that might be even more insidious.

But it's funny, isn't it, that poets who write nice polite poems can be so mean? Kinda gives a whole new meaning to that old concept of poetic persona. You're darn tooting that nice person talking in that poem isn't the poet.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Greenleaf Music blog

One of the highlights of last summer was hearing Dave Douglas, jazz trumpeter and composer extraordinaire, live at the St. Louis Jazz Festival. During our sometimes less than brilliant conversation with him, C. and I mentioned that we had heard some of his new album online. His face lit up at this news, and he went on to say how he would now be releasing all his albums online, and that he was glad we had found the website.

Um, didn't want to tell you, Dave, but we had heard the excerpts on amazon.com.

And though I'm grateful to Amazon for those excerpts, I'm now here to extoll the virtues of the website I previously visited only rarely: Dave is doing it right. The Greenleaf Music site now features a blog on its main page, with contributions by a number of Greenleaf Music artists. Dave Douglas's recent entry on "Improvisation as Explosive Device" speaks not only to the power of this device in art but in the circulation of affect:

[Improvisation] is an element of music with explosive potential. Sparks fly when musicians are forced to make choices. The energy of surprise is one of the things I love most in music: The sense that anything could happen. There's also a power in hearing the individual make a choice that I find captivating. Hearing the voice of an individual musician is one of the hallmarks of jazz, and I believe it's a strength that can travel.

The circulation of surprise: yes. Isn't that what makes blogging a pleasure? Not that blogging is art, exactly. But there is that element of energy, of surprise, that keeps us coming back.

So: jazz and blogs. Makes sense to bring them together.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Not only is it the new year

But it's also my blogging anniversary! Well, sort of. Depends on what counts as "beginning." You know, those origin stories--they can never be trusted.

I had begun and neglected five or so blogs before starting this one, and I actually set this one up in April 2004. But my first deliberate entry that included links to other blogs was one year ago today.

And now this semester I'm teaching a blogging course. The links requirement is one I need to remember: blogging isn't blogging unless it's connecting you up to other bloggers.

It's been nice connecting up with all of you out there this year. Here's to a wonderfully connective 2006.