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.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Seems like Jenny and Jeff have a little somethin somethin going on today.

Send 'em some good wishes, why don't you?

And in keeping with this blog's tradition for celebrating momentous occasions, I offer (what else?) a picture of a cat. (It is Friday, after all.) Simon's on the move, but he does want to take a moment to send his best wishes, most especially to Koom Koom and Shiva.

Really: Congratulations you two! Humans, I mean. Now here's Simon, in his role as sign of all good things:


Thursday, September 07, 2006

On teaching (literature) with blogging

A few weeks ago, Keri requested that I write an entry about everything I've learned while using blogs to teach literature. Having used blogs only twice (ok, thrice) in literature classes, my experience is limited, and so I've been a little hesitant. But after she posted a whole load of new blog entries, I thought the least I could do is try, in honor of her renewed blogging.

I'm not primarily a literature teacher, of course, but I do have a pretty broad background in literary studies, so I teach a lower-level lit class from time to time. Here at MU I taught Intro to Women's Lit, a sophomore level class, last spring and summer, and I used blogs both times, but in completely different ways. (I also just remembered as I was beginning this entry that I used blogs in the last class I taught at SIU, an intro to literary studies class, in July 2004. But I seem to have deleted that blog and don't have strong memories of it--perhaps because I was packing up at the same time--so I won't say much about it.)

So last spring, I asked each student to keep a blog, and primarily the blog was a place for posting an individual response to the reading for the day before class. I encouraged them to read each other's blogs, but mostly they didn't. I required them to comment on each other's blog once later in the semester (when it was all too clear that they weren't otherwise cross-reading), so most of them read some other blogs then. So except for that one time, the blogs were functioning not much differently from a paper journal.

Now, why did I do it this way? It's sometimes hard to reconstruct my thinking, but I'll try. For one thing, the class had over 20 students, so I didn't think a group blog would work unless I divided up the responsibilities for blogging, and I didn't want to do that. (I could also have opted to have a couple of group blogs and divided students up into a couple of groups, but I wasn't so happy with my one other attempt at using two group blogs, so I decided against that course of action, as well. Now I'm thinking I should give the two group blogs idea another chance sometime.) I wanted everyone blogging before class, not just a select few. Being required to write about a text tends to be a good motivator to actually read the text, and many of my students reported to me that they appreciated keeping the blog for precisely that reason. It prompted them to do the reading.

But of course I wanted the blog to function as more than a stick. I wanted it to be a place for them to think, to generate ideas. And while it did function that way for a few students, for most it did not. Most of the blog entries were fairly perfunctory, and at times I suspected that they *might* have been reading each other's blogs, only because some of the perfunctory entries sounded so similar. (But, in retrospect, I think it could just as well be chalked up to the similarity of generalizations in general, if you know what I mean.)

Not having much cross-reading contributed, I think, to this perfunctoriness. Even while many of them reported appreciating the blog-stick phenomenon, it's easy to feel uninspired by sticks, even if they do get us moving in some fashion. If they had really been reading (and commenting) on each other's blogs, I believe the entries would have gained some momentum. (And why did I *not* require commenting most of the semester, you might ask. Well, I was also using a wiki for the first time, and the wiki software I was using had a discussion option on each page. I decided to try this complicated task of having students add links and stuff to the wiki *and*--on a group rotation--post topics to the appropriate page and reply to the discussion. Yeah. I could hardly keep up with it myself. Anyway, I thought all the rich discussion would happen on the wiki, so I thought requiring discussion on the blogs would have been overkill. And it would have been. But what I really should have done was required commenting on the blogs and gotten over my hypnotic fascination with the admittedly crude discussion capabilities of the wiki.)

Anyway, one thing I knew I wanted to do differently when I taught the class over the summer was to make sure they read and responded to each other's blog entries. And because the class was somewhat smaller (14), I thought I would risk using just the one group blog. And it worked really beautifully. With no prompting at all, students were telling me that they loved the blog. (A couple of people complained a bit because they had unreliable or no internet access at home. I understand the complaint, but can't see much of a way around it. I'm not going to stop using blogs.) One thing they seemed to love was the chance to hear other's reactions to the readings. Most of the students were not English majors, and many of them felt uncertain of their ability to make sense of the readings. So the chance to read each other's ideas did a number of things: (1) it gave them new ways of thinking about a given text, (2) it gave them confidence in their own ideas (especially when others commented on their entries), and (3) it prompted them to talk more in class. In other words, it seemed to "equalize" things so that everyone knew ahead of time (more or less) than everyone had different ideas about the text, and that that was ok. There wasn't just one "answer" that I was looking for when I asked questions. There were, instead, a host of reactions, and part of our task in class was to process those reactions, to go back to the text and see what the evidence supported and complicated, but to also consider how reactions get formed (how social/cultural/personal backgrounds, etc. always inform our readings).

And I also used the wiki differently. Mainly, it was a management system, a place to explain assignments (on my part) and to post them (on their part). I had them post their two collage assignments there and to comment on each other's collages. I thought that worked well, though when I do that again I want to have them comment *before* the final submission so that they'll have a chance to incorporate ideas generated in the comments in their final submissions. I also had them post their class portfolios on the wiki.

This is getting long, and so I think I'll close. And what I'm thinking of really isn't about blogging; it's about visual learning. I've been thinking about that ever since Collin put that tag cloud of the last 11 years of CCC on his blog. I've always thought I wasn't a visual thinker, and now I'm realizing how very silly such a thought is. And how that's influencing my teaching but also my thinking in general.

But that will have to be a blog entry for another time.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Questions concerning definitions

From Silliman's blog, a list of ways that "feminist poet" may be defined, excerpted from Rachel Blau DuPlessis' Blue Studios (good stuff for future Intro. to Women's Literature classes):

Feminist poet = one who talks a lot about gender and sexuality in her/his work. No, wait-that would be lots of poets--Olson, Williams. So try-a poet who marks the constructedness of gender and sexuality in her/his work, takes gender as an ideology about male- and femaleness and wants to investigate, to critique, not simply to benefit.

Feminist poet = woman poet

Feminist poet = woman poet consumed (studied, read, appreciated) under the regime of or in the economy of feminist perspectives, whether or not she is a feminist. One might want a different term for this-see the note on "feminist reception" below.

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who has certain themes in her work, themes (tautologically?) agreed upon as feminist. These themes - Alicia Ostriker names a number: self-division, anger, investigation of myth, assertion of the female body-are very palpable, valuable ways of organizing poetic texts, but have the flaws of their formulizable virtues: of being reductive or making the poem one-dimensional.

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who writes poems about the liberation of women

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who resists stereotypes of women-in her life? in her work? both?

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who resists stereotypes of women and men-again-where?

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who comments on gender issues in her critical work, who thinks about gender in the cultural field

Feminist poet = woman poet whose work is selectively seen, certain materials heavily valorized because of the existence of feminist criticism and its paradigms.

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who takes certain themes of "difference" involving women's experiences -menarche, menstruation, childbirth, kid life, sexisms experienced, rape, incest - as central subject matter (some of these topics are not exclusive to women)

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who tells the truth about her life as a woman. And with that verbal emphasis on truth and the unmediated communication of experience, one also might want to investigate the word "tells" or representation. As Margaret Homans so presciently said about Rukeyser's rousing manifesto "No more masks!": "Lines like Rukeyser's and the expressions of faith derived from them are always exhortatory, never descriptive, because to speak without a mask is an impossibility, for men and for women…." (Women Writers and Poetic Identity, 1980, 40)

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who used to be called a poetess

Feminist poet = [woman] poet in a certain anthology (like No More Masks!)

Feminist poet = poet who destabilizes the normative terms of gender/sexuality and makes some kind of critique of those issues in her/his poems. This is closing in on the word "queer" as synonym for "feminist"

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who refuses (self-censors) certain themes or solutions, certain images or insights because they do not explore or lead, in her view, to the liberation of women

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who calls explicit attention to the relative powerlessness of women and the relative power of men-or who exaggerates this positionality into female powerlessness, male power in all cases.

Feminist poet = [woman] poet historically coming to her production in some relation to the liberation of women, and to the cultural critique of female exclusions made by feminism in general

Feminist poet = [woman] poet writing something "politically involved…multi-gendered, …delicious to talk about, unpredictable" (to cite the Belladonna formulation from Rachel Levitsky)

Feminist poet = [woman] poet affronting the complexities of sexuality, eroticism, desire, odi et amo, frank and startling, decorum breaking (like Dodie Bellamy or Leslie Scalapino)

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who investigates language, narrative, genre and representation in its ways of constructing gender and gender roles. This is Kathleen Fraser's argument: "I recognized a structural order of fragmentation and resistance" that was anti-patriarchal; her argument for the crucial intervention of formally innovative and investigative poetry into a feminist field in Translating the Unspeakable: Poetry and the Innovative Necessity, 2000)

Feminist poet = a person who is a feminist, and who also writes poetry

Feminist poet = angry woman, writing poetry

Feminist poet = ironic woman, writing poetry

Feminist poet = [woman] poet who is "disobedient" (Alice Notley's term for herself); transgressive (like Carla Harryman); "resistant" (my term about myself); imbuing knowing with its investigative situatedness (like Lyn Hejinian's "La Faustienne") in full knowledge of gender normativities

Feminist poet = a poet radically skeptical about gender ideas and arrangements in a culture

Feminist poet = a poet who knows what she thinks about gender ideas and arrangements in a culture and does not particularly change her mind

Feminist poet = a poet who sometimes shows herself to be ironic and skeptical about gender and sexual arrangements, but other times is not, or not overtly

Feminist poet = a woman protesting the place of woman in culture and society (in her poetry? not in her poetry? I didn't say)

Feminist poet = one who finds herself "mounting an enormous struggle" within culture, including poetry, because of its deeply constitutive gender ideas

Friday, September 01, 2006

Inspiration, at last

I need inspiration, people! (See comment on Monday's entry.) And why did I think I would find it in the pages of Drucker's Management or some other text essential to my project but nonetheless more matter than manner?

I also need to give some credit to my own writing process instead of believing I should find another one. Monday's entry has hints of this. I will start with redoing Chapter One, I decided. I will not rewrite the introduction to the book as a whole until I'm done revising the whole thing.

Bad idea. I'm a recursive writer, just like everyone else, but I'm also a very linear writer. That is, I need a good beginning, and I need that beginning to serve as a launching pad. Without that, I'm just swimming in a warm bowl of something unpleasant.

More to the point, I need a good first line. I've always figured this was a hold-over from my days as a poet, and I've recently felt that it must be a hindrance, one I should let go of.

My, but I have an uncanny ability to get in my own way. If I write better with a good first line, why not just go with that? Of course, that's easier to believe now that I've got one.

But don't think I'm telling you, dear reader, what it is. Not yet, anyway.

But I will give you the line that inspired it. From Empire (where else?):

The problematic of Empire is determined in the first place by one simple fact: that there is world order.

There you have it: the line that finally moved my book revision forward.

I would also like to mention that I found Spencer's blog entry on making things inspiring today. Another way I sabotage myself is by thinking I'm doing something more akin to channeling (like the Ouija-board metaphor in Gunn and Lunberg's RSA piece) than creating. Good to be reminded that I'm not possessed nor should I be. Even if I do require inspiration. (Funny, that: it does suggest the moving of spirits, doesn't it? It is, though, all about affect: the ability to move and be moved. Just not possessed.)