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.