Thursday, April 27, 2006

Remembrance of enthusiasms past

April is almost over, which means National Poetry Month, too, is almost over. So I should post another poem, methinks.

And I thought I would post a poem that, when I first read it during the early heady days of my MFA, I was absolutely in love with. Like I've mentioned before, in the moment of my enthusiasm, the object of that emotion is without fault. And so it was for awhile many years ago: Jorie Graham was a goddess. I read the poem I'll be posting just before I discovered her later poems with blanks. Yes, poems with __________. Now, I ask you: how cool is that? ;-)

Anyway, later, I decided her poems were, oh, too bourgeois. And so I sold The End of Beauty (which collected many of those poems-with-blanks) in one of my formerly frequent bookselling purges. (When my friend and fellow poet JD later saw it at the local used bookstore, he asked me, with some concern, how my copy of Jorie Graham had ended up there.) I did, however, keep Erosion, where this poem ("San Sepolcro")originally appeared.

I still rather like this poem. I'm a pushover for language that seems to allude to something simultaneously mysterious and sensuous ("There's milk on the air, / ice on the oily / lemonskins."). Maybe that can be blamed on my Baptist upbringing, too? (The poem's below the fold. Or read it here: the spacing is strange below, so it will be easier to view at the external site.)

San Sepolcro
by Jorie Graham

In this blue light

I can take you there,

snow having made me

a world of bone

seen through to. This

is my house,

my section of Etruscan

wall, my neighbor's

lemontrees, and, just below

the lower church,

the airplane factory.

A rooster

crows all day from mist

outside the walls.

There's milk on the air,

ice on the oily

lemonskins. How clean

the mind is,

holy grave. It is this girl

by Piero

della Francesca, unbuttoning

her blue dress,

her mantle of weather,

to go into

labor. Come, we can go in.

It is before

the birth of god. No one

has risen yet

to the museums, to the assembly


and wings--to the open air

market. This is

what the living do: go in.

It's a long way.

And the dress keeps opening

from eternity

to privacy, quickening.

Inside, at the heart,

is tragedy, the present moment

forever stillborn,

but going in, each breath

is a button

coming undone, something terribly


finding all of the stops.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Slouching toward the big wheel

If JB can admit it, so can I: haven't quite finished Toward a Civil Discourse, hence my lack of blogging on the topic. But I'd like to at least feel as though I'm throwing a ring or something, so here are a few initial responses.

First, I want to say that I really appreciate the project that I understand Crowley setting up for herself: to see if stasis is possible for political liberals and conservative Christians. If stasis is possible, Crowley suggests early on, it must come not from the Enlightenment mode of argumentation that places total faith in rationality (and that faith in rationality leads her to also suggest that liberalism is also a kind of fundamentalism--see p. 14--so I think my reading might be slightly different Bill's item #1, though I could also be misreading Bill's point), but from rhetorical argumentation, which offers a broader range of appeals. This distinction between liberal "rational" argumentation and rhetorical argumentation is itself an important and timely intervention in the current climate. (See my previous musings on argument hope.)

So, although I haven't gotten far into Crowley's argument, I'm curious to see if she is free of argument hope or is reinscribing it. Or if I'll be convinced that I've been too hard on the idea of argument hope. Maybe, as Collin suggests (I think he suggests), we need argument hope in order to be in this business at all.

I'm interested, in particular, to see the use Crowley makes of Mouffe. I used to be a kind of Mouffe junky: I thought Mouffe had the great answer for rhetoric in the way that I now tend to think Massumi does. (And I'm sure I'll move on yet again. That's what we do. We move.) I used to think her ideas about agonistic discourse were exactly what we needed to be teaching in our classes. But now I'm sceptical of the very notion of hegemony if indeed hegemonic is somehow separate from or analytically privileged over affect.

Jenny's most recent post on affinity gets at my own scepticism about hegemony: am I really fully over on the side of "liberal" if I have what she calls a "sliver" of fundamentalism in my skin:

There is not a bigger skeptic than me, a girl who renounced the church and became a Jew (and loves reform Judaism for its own skepticism). And yet. Did I lose affinity with fundamentalist Christian beliefs or logics? On one hand, YES! But in another way, I’m bound to it through the habitual experience I lived for my first 15 years. (Crowley talks a lot about habitus.)

This isn’t to say that I still revert to fundamentalist logics or vocabularies. Rather, for me, it’s more like a tiny sliver of glass that my skin has been forced to grow around. My later processes of learning and rhetoricizing have also had to grow a hard callous around that sliver. That makes my later vocabularies (or lenses) uniquely scarred in a particular way. Insofar as my own body has had to develop with and against that habitual experience, I’m not really less viscerally identified with that belief system. Am I? Perhaps it’s more of an expansion than a matter of lessening/loosening affinities. . . at least for some folks.

Exactly. Like Jenny, rhetoric has been for me an incredible force of movement away from the good/bad-right/wrong discourse of my youth. Yet that habit continues to be a worn path my bodymind wants to go down, as I've recently talked a bit about in another blog entry.

So I'll continue to think about these things as I continue to read and continue to participate in this carnival of ours.

The five paragraph thing

The other day I was vaguely thinking about a writing assignment for first-year composition (or beyond) that would explode the five-paragraph essay in some way. I think my idea was to ask students to write the essay as a web-based document that could then be linked from, and to use the links as opportunities to explore what couldn't be said in the five paragraphs, what they perhaps censored themselved from saying because they felt the need to follow the rules they had internalized about the form.

But now I see that Spencer already has a cool assignment that gets students to "explode" the five-paragraph essay, but through a kind of meta-exploration of the genre. So I'm linking to it in order to remember it the next time I teach writing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I took a vow of silence

Really, I did.

But soon I'll be a regular carny. Debbie, Jeff, Jenny, and Bill have already started the parades.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Just had the first meeting of a departmental "technology" ad hoc committee. It's exciting to think that we might get some conversations going, across the department, of the ways that technology can change what we do in teaching both writing and literature. Today was just a starter meeting, and so we won't really get going until the fall, but I think we're likely to bring someone to campus next year to help jump start the conversation, and just the likelihood of that small step excites me.

Talking to R. afterwards about trying to also get such conversations going in the class we teach for new composition teachers, I started thinking, dejectedly, about my own largely failed efforts last year when I taught the course. The objection seemed to be that technology gets in the way. And I know there are a whole host of ways of responding to that objection, but what really cheered me up was reading Alex Reid's most recent entry just now, which I'm quoting from so that I can remember to use it next time I teach the Theory and Practice of Composition:

In truth, for me, the fundamental error in composition is its founding institutional raison d'etre: students cannot write (well). That is, composition is founded upon the identification of a "problem." The problem, however, is built into the institutional hailing of the college student; i.e., a college student can be defined, in part, as one who does not write well (or at least as well as professionals or college faculty). A related part of the definition is that a college student is one who does not know (much) (or as much as faculty).

Who can deny such definitions? Any individual exceptions only serve to prove the general rule, eh?

This lack (of discipline, ability, knowledge, experience) serves the Nietzschean mechanism of ressentiment and bad conscience that leads to the ascetic ideal upheld by the pedagogue: learn this habit of thought, develop this disciplinary practice, master this body of knowledge, and your lack may be mitigated.

So I would begin any approach to composition with setting aside this notion of lack. Instead of mitigating some absence, writing might be understood as the proliferation of thought. I think this is generally recognized, and instruction often seeks to limit the potential for proliferation by sequestering it within "brainstorming" or invention. Writing instruction quickly turns to controlling this proliferation and targeting writing toward a purpose: completion of an assignment, approximation of the simulacrum of "good" academic writing, and achievement of pre-established course goals.

And, certainly, what Alex is saying here reinforces what many others say: Geoffrey Sirc comes to mind. And as Victor Vitanza says in that movie the Audio Archives folks showed at RNF: I was always told what I couldn't do in my writing. What I wanted to know is what I could do.

I was astounded, actually, at the number of new instructors from my class who decided to use the age old text Writing with a Purpose. I mean, sure, there's a place for that. But how tragic to limit writing to developing thesis statements. How tragic and how sad.

I mean, even George Bush can write a thesis statement. That doesn't make the world a better place.

I do understand the attraction of teaching a very constrained curriculum in the first-year composition class: for new teachers, it seems to offer solid place to stand. What I hope to do the next time I teach the course for new teachers is to involve them in more kinds of writing, to make the course itself one of proliferation of writing, which then opens up the possibilities of proliferating pedagogy.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Network economies

When I'm enthusiastic about something, my enthusiasm tends to cancel out any previous critical tendencies on my part. They can return, but in the moment of my enthusiasm, all negativity is lost.

I hesitate to reveal this, since it will probably make me seem astonishingly naive or something. And I've got a reputation to uphold here. (I do, don't I?) But I haven't blogged since Tuesday, and while I'm tempted to simply post a picture of one or more cats (just to give Chris more to blog about), I am instead here to talk about my enthusiasm for the network and my astonishment when Marissa posted a critique that I immediately felt *I* should have brought up myself.

So, here's the scoop: in my blogging class, we've been reading and discussing the contexts that have given rise to blogging/in which blogging participates. Last week we talked about the idea of an information economy, and this week we read about networks: Tuesday, a chapter from Taylor's The Moment of Complexity, and Thursday, we read a couple of things from Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

And so much in these texts generates enthusiasm in me, perhaps especially this bit from Weinberger:

The Web, however, is teaching us a different lesson about management. Consider the Web as a construction project. It's the most complex network ever created. It is by many orders of magnitude the largest collection of human writings and works in history. It is far more robust than networks far smaller. Yet it was created without any managers. In fact, it only succeeded because its designers made the conscious decision to build a network that would require no central control. You don't need anyone else's permission to join in, to post whatever you want, to read whatever others have posted. The Web is profoundly unmanaged and that is crucial to its success. It takes traditional command and control structures and busts them up into many small pieces that then loosely join themselves--and that, too, is crucial to its success.

Given my own critical scepticism of the role managerialism has played in the history of composition studies, I read this and think: yes! Creativity without management! Even loose coordination without management! Yes! Yes! More like this!

And then Marissa messes me all up by pointing out:

the Web can be seen as a natural extension of laissez faire rhetoric that has shaped capitalist societies. Cyberspace is a largely unregulated domain...those who use (and abuse) it to accomplish their own agenda will likely benefit, while the weak (the victims of unsavory characters like those mentioned above) are left unprotected by the system.

And immediately my marxist training kicks in, and I think about how apt this is, how indeed the neocons are trying to promote deregulation hither and yon to dismantle welfare capitalism that at least provided some measure of social protection.

And then I remember: oh, yeah. This isn't about the good/bad thing, Donna. You always want to do the good/bad thing. It's about what is enabled. What's made possible. (Or not.) After all, the network can just as well represent, and, indeed, enable, the joining together of the multitude.

So, note to self: remember to add a pinch of critical scrutiny to your enthusiasm. Stir well. See how it tastes. Move on.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The habit of memory

I've wanted to thank everyone who responded to my question last week about virtual forgetting.

John's response about habit memory and body memory make a good bit of sense to me. One of the things I learned from Collin is the importance of getting into a blogging rhythm, and that's something that's both bodily and habitual. But it's also not what our bodies have grown accustomed to: schooling still happens primarily according to deadlines and in the form of paper products. So blogging (I almost accidently wrote "flogging." Hmm. No. That's old school.) is a habit that has to be taken on contra the managed assembly line. It has to be internalized, habituated in a new bodily economy.

Just think about the Saturday morning CCCC panel and the different bodily economies it asked of the people who attended. No sitting and listening. Movement. And Jenny's podcast, of course, reinforced that. Some of my favorite moments: listening to her podcast, hearing VV talk about tics at the very moment I happened to glance over at his installation, seeing that man with the eye twitch. Or hearing Derek talk about his knee, and looking up to see Derek across the table from me. Moments that were part of the panel, but unplanned.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You know what they say about April

The cruelest month and all. I don't know if that's why April was chosen to be National Poetry Month, but it is. And in honor of one of my poetry teachers, Roger Mitchell (who, I just discovered, is blogging), I offer this poem (below the fold):

Things Light Finds to Be
Roger Mitchell
From Savage Baggage

I can't explain it, D., only let
the rug unravel. We walk across the room.
Walk across the room again. See,
the light has changed, the things light finds to be.
I bet you'll never come to visit us,
she said. I felt accused, but she was right.

Now everything is here. The leaves drift down
in a steady wash of air. The world, let go,
hovers on its stalk.
And the dropping, which seems sudden,
isn't, and which seems like a downward motion,
props these groping twigs against the sky.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Wendy Hesford is a guest lecturer on campus today and tomorrow, sponsored by the English Department, Women's and Gender Studies, and several others. She led a cool pedagogy workshop today on critical autobiographical writing, and will do two lectures tomorrow.

And the last few days have been a matter of arranging details, for R. especially, but also for me.

You might say that's why I haven't been blogging. But, really, here I am blogging.

Tomorrow night, I'll ride with R. as she drives Wendy to the airport in St. Louis. Two hours there, two hours back. If it wasn't night, we'd stop at Trader Joe's. But it will be night.

And now that I've given out that bit of exciting information, I think I should sign off.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Virtual forgetting

In my blogging class today, several students made a curious claim. Online assignments, they said, are much easier to forget than paper ones. That is, if a professor asks them to write a paper response for the next class, they'll remember that. But if she asks that they go online and post to a discussion board before the next class, they're more likely to forget.

Hmmm. One person suggested that the reason for this forgetting is that needing to write a paper is something that stays on your mind, so you remember it. Going online, though, seems like something that can be done quickly, so it gets put in the back of the mind, where it's more easily lost.

Curious. And perhaps explains why, while some in the class are blogging quite regularly, others seem to be, well, forgetting. Even though that's, um, all we do in class.

And there was the comment, early on, from a student who said she kept forgetting that the class even exists. That's a little (no, more than a little) disconcerting.

Why is online work so forgettable? John: you're the memory expert. Can you help me out here? Or anyone?