Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Going once, going twice?

The Trimbur carnival has been going for about a week now, and it's been very fun reading all the entries. Jeff Ward wins the prize for the greatest number of contributions(and the prize is . . . hmm, give me a second).

And I feel as though I have another post in me, one that responds to some of the more recent thoughts, like Jeff's, Kevin's, Michael's, Chris's, and Marcia's, for instance. But, no, not tonight.

Tonight, C and I went out for a little meal together, something we haven't done in awhile. I had a Milk Stout (I think I thought it would literally be creamy, but it wasn't. Still pretty good, however.). And so I'm just going to relax, I think, and leave off thinking much for tomorrow.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Back in the day, I was taught we were living in the End Times. You know, the last days, the days of earthquakes and disasters. The days heralding Armageddon, the Second Coming, and the Kingdom of God on earth.

You might have noticed, maybe, that End Times are big business these days. A whole book series with its own Amazon storefront. And it's only the latest in a series of books (see, this one, in its 25th printing, for example) warning folks that, if they aren't careful, they'll be stuck here on earth with the Antichrist.

Anyway, I'd like to chalk up my own former anxiety about the End Times, at least in part, to growing up in a rough-edged kind of place. Plagues of locusts? Seems not too-far-fetched when you live in central Texas. I remember plagues of crickets descending on the Baylor campus each fall of my undergraduate days. Crickets on every visible surface outside. And the awful unavoidable crunchiness of walking.

And then there's this, ominously labeled "Darkness in the Afternoon" by the Fort-Worth Star Telegram. According to my parents, the wind picked up yesterday afternoon, and darkness descended. A pillar of dust blew in from west Texas. DFW airport shut down, for all practical purposes. It was, according to the Star-Telegram, the longest pause in air travel since 9/11.

So, yes, it isn't hard to believe the world will end soon when darkness descends of a sudden. And this after a truly bizarre winter of not infrequent snow and ice. I wasn't there, but just hearing tell made me a little uneasy.

Great winds. Dust, dust.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Farewell, beef

(That's what Carnival means, you know. So long, meals of flesh. I'm a vegetarian, so I've got no problem with this.)

Anyway, the Trimbur Carnival is rolling along! Thanks, everyone, for your contributions so far. I think most entries have links here, either in the main post or in the comments--with the exception of Lance's contribution. Anyone else?

I'm finding myself particularly intrigued by Alex's description of what his institution's professional writing program manages to hold in balance, the dance between what Trimbur calls writing as noun and writing as participle:
In my experience, a professional writing program offers a significant means to explore writing. We study writing (both verb and noun) as Trimbur suggests. We practice writing. We study by practicing and practice by studying. We have courses like "Rhetoric" and "Contemporary Poetics" and "Evolution of Writing" where we read about writing and write and talk about writing. They are seminars I suppose. I suppose you could say we offer our students a cultural studies perspective, if the alternatives are a process orientation or a functional-transactional orientation.

However, I see it differently. In curriculum design we've long imagined courses as building upon one another, as connecting to one another. Now that network is technologically possible. Students can build and access information across courses and semesters. In terms of networking, it's nothing special. In terms of curriculum I think it points the way out of the seminar. Furthermore, it makes it easier to trace linkages rather than leap (as Latour says) from the local interaction to the specter of ideology.

And isn't that just it? The ability to offer more and connections, rather than, say, to understand all classes as doing one thing: studying writing or offering practice in writing. As Derek asks, can't we think additively rather than substitutively?

Maybe the difficulty in thinking additively, though, points to a problem in this thing we call "comp/rhet," as Lance suggests:
But saying that reveals a still deeper rift in our so-called theory wars: whereas composition is, and always has been, a deeply (and primarily) ethical enterprise, writing studies is, first and foremost, a project of discovery: it’s about “understanding how texts and textual practices in some social arena reflect and create certain social relations” (Bazerman and Prior 4). . . Writing studies does not take as its point of departure the edification, liberation, spiritual awakening, or (fill-in-the-blank) of first-year (or any) college students (orientations that both Susan Miller, in “Writing Studies as a Mode of Inquiry,” and Kurt Spellmeyer, in “Education for Irrelevance,” critique).

You know, I have to admit that the idea of composition as liberation has long motivated me. And, like I told a graduate seminar of mine a few years back, I'm under no illusions about where that articulation came from for me--I was raised an evangelical. It's hard to stop believing that I need to save people from something. But evangelism can be pretty stifling. The belief that "composition" itself has to be saved--has to be defended as an "intellectual" enterprise--that, too, seems stifling to me.

Much more interesting is the possibility of doing writing. Of being curious about composing. Of watching what it does.

Which brings me to Jeff's point:
I’d rather call to write (though I am not against the call to study) for the reasons Latour notes. I’d rather call to write as I call for the assemblage, the gathering, the mediating. To do that is not to negate the “study” of writing, but possibly to merge its study with its production, its existence as a body that we examine with a body that continues to change. Isn’t Trimbur’s argument that writing is a practice that “pervades the curriculum”? So why do we, writing teachers, need a call to study writing? What will that do? Can’t we work with this “thing” that pervades?

So, yeah, these days I'm thinking that I just want to do the work. It's strange, isn't it, how "composition" has become this thing that must be laden with value? With moral value? As if it's a person? In my graduate seminar last week we read the Hairston-Radical Guy debates (a debate Trimbur participated in and references in "Changing the Question"), and I was struck by the lack of rhetorical acumen on either side. It was a lot of posturing, a lot of empty accusations. Not a lot of listening. Not a lot of inquiry.

And I'm just finding myself more and more interested in the latter two things these days. And less and less interested in the former two.

And, to go way back to my concern in 2005 about Fulkerson's jumping to the question of what makes writing good and my desire to ask--but what is writing?--I'll say this: I'm still asking that question. But not to answer it. To push an exploration.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Writing and clothing

It's February, and so a whole month still between this one and the official poetry month of April. But I just read this Elaine Equi poem on Silliman's blog, liked it, and so decided to post it here.

"Men in Camisoles"

All writing is a form
of transvestism.

Men in camisoles.
Women drinking port
and smoking thin cigars.

Think of Flaubert, Proust,
Mallarmé in drag.

Or a woman (any woman)
trying on a man’s power:
”Now I clothe myself
in your blood, your wars.”

Like getting dressed
in a warm room
on a cold day

the sly smile
of the self
as it goes to sleep.

Everything contained within.
You read Rilke
and you become Rilke.

Nothing can stop this
endless, transformative
flow of selves
into other, opposite,
even objects and animals.

In a dream I took my
blue pentagram shirt
to the cleaners

and they said
it would take
three whole months
to get the werewolf out!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Get your beads and king cakes ready

You know, I hadn't planned it this way, but we're going to be carnivalizing during carnival week, with Mardi Gras on Tuesday.

So, yes, if you'd like to join, all you have to do is read John Trimbur's "Changing the question: Should writing be studied?" (Thanks for the link, Derek!) It's quite short. And then talk about it. That's all it takes to be part of the carnival!

You might want to see my post from last month that got this particular carnival started. Even better, see Jeff's and Collin's last month riffs on Trimbur.

And if you're really ambitious, you could also take a look at some of the pieces in the November 2006 issue of College English, which take up the question, "What Is College English?" Although the topic is "college English," most all the respondents are comp folk, including our own Jeff Rice. (Articles are available online if you're a subscriber; if not, they might be available through your local library and/or your local library's online database.)

OK then! Let the carnival begin (by Friday, anyway).

And think about sponsoring the next carnival yourself! Jenny suggested quarterly carnivals, an idea I like. So maybe we could say late May for the next one?)

Fat Tuesday Update: The Carnival is up and running! See new entries by Bill, Derek (who offers, among other things, a tag cloud of Trimbur's article!), Jenny, and Jeff. Anyone I missed?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Some happy things (more or less)

I skipped Happy Woman Professor Day because I was feeling grumpy on Wednesday. And even though Debbie said that if she could think of good things to post about then surely being a WP must be pretty good, I still refused to participate. (Well, that's a little more active than the reality. I just didn't participate. Out of grumpiness.)

But even on that day of grumpiness, I was sharing it with some other grumpy colleagues, and we seemed to enjoy each other in our grumpiness. The next day we were emailing each other all day, apologizing about our various levels of grumpiness the previous day. And it all became silly, and I won't even tell you how silly. Just silly, and the ability to be silly with one's colleagues isn't something to be taken lightly. It makes me happy, it does.

So that's one thing.

And last night I had dinner with two colleagues and the last (if the gods are willing) of our eleven job candidates, and I enjoyed the pleasure of the company, including the company of one colleague I had hardly ever spoken to before last night. And part of the pleasure was the pleasure of connections, sharing in shared affection for other folks in the field (not mine, theirs). Even with all the strangeness that can come with sharing space with academics, there are also these moments of pure delight and pleasure.

So that's another thing.

And I also had an email yesterday from a grad student at another institution, a grad student whose dissertation committee I'm serving on. And what a privilege is that, to be able to be in on new work being done not just here at my home institution but sometimes at other institutions as well? It's a stunning privilege, and a humbling one, too. (I hope that makes sense.)

So that's a third thing--the pleasure of being in on new ideas. Sharing ideas. Letting the mind expand and even explode with the newness.

And that brings me to you, gentle reader, and the blogosphere. It makes me happy, this thing that we do here. Thanks to you all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's true: more snow

Yes, more snow. Walked out this morning, my foot sunk down in three or more inches of the stuff. And it's still falling. Public schools are closed (happy belated birthday, Z!). The university, however, chugs along.

Well, almost. Classes are going; no one has been given official permission to stay home. But our departmental meeting this afternoon, at which a vote that I'm particularly keen to see happen was to be taken, has been cancelled.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Some things for Saturday

(1) Indeed, yes, the boiler is still working. (Knock on wood, er, pipes.) Thanks for the concern.

(2) I can't, however, seem to get sufficiently warm. Ever. (Except when good colleague R offered me some hot tea and a lovely scented heating pad. It's like I'm ready for the retirement home or something.)

(3) I'm thinking maybe I'll get the mattress heating thing that my stylist recommended.

(4) Soon, I'll be back to regular and (perhaps) more intellectually stimulating blogging.

(5) After all, we've got a reading carnival coming up.

(6) Cafe Berlin, where I broke my fast this morning, is sort of like what I want from a college town: amateurish but somewhat interesting food. If they could just maybe lose some of the amateurishness as they age.

(7) I'm thinking February 23 for the carnival. So go ahead and read Trimbur and, if you want, some of the articles from last November's CE. That's the "What Should College English Be?" issue, and though not exclusively about writing, might play well with Trimbur's question about the study of writing.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


As many others have recently remarked, it's cold. Really cold.

I wanted to say so, too, but given that Columbia never dipped below 0, I thought I hardly had much to complain about, compared to the temps in Urbana-Champaign, Detroit, and such.

Except that, friends, I was very cold. Cold deep down. And, thanks to my ever helpful colleague, R, I can now tell you why I was cold. My boiler was broken.

See, I came home late Saturday afternoon, a day of a high in the teens, a day that I spent on campus, attending a workshop. And C greeted me at the door in his coat. It's cold! he insisted. Well, I thought, of course it's cold. It's in the teens outside and we live in an old inefficient house. Of course it's cold.

But when I saw that the temperature in the living room was reading 50 degrees, I did wonder. So I went into the laundry room to have a look at the ancient boiler. It was hot. I could see the pilot light. I could hear it pumping. So I just assumed it couldn't keep up with the extreme temperatures.

My good colleague R, however, upon hearing about this the next day, urged me to call in a repair person. Oh, I said, I think it's just these severely cold days. I think this house has almost no insulation. Still, she urged me on.

And then, suddenly struck with a fear of hypothermia, I took my temperature. It was 94, which, I believe, is indeed hypothermia (though it only begins to do its damage if it lasts for a few hours).

So I called the next morning. But the boiler man (as I affectionately refer to him) couldn't come yesterday. This morning, after another excrutiating night of very little sleep (and heaps of cats all over me), I walked outside and actually found the outside more pleasant than the inside. I knew that was a bad sign. (It's true, it did get to 50 today, but this morning it was 20 or lower.)

Finally, this afternoon the boiler man came and found that, yes, I had a bad part. No water was circulating. And now it's fixed, and now my living room has just topped 60. Whew. Cause this 50 today, I'm told, is a fluke. It's getting cold again.

At least now I can sleep. Good night, all.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

CWWDUV*, Installment the second

I really am not one to commit to a regular series on my blog, but Anne's suggestion of one of my favorite figures of all time, litotes, compels me to write at least this additional installment.

Litotes is, first of all, one of those words you might hear as an undergraduate in, say, English, and have no idea how to spell. Lightatees? Or maybe come across it in a handbook on literary terms and have no idea how to pronounce: lie-totes?

But, beyond all that, it names one of my favorite rhetorical strategies: understatement. It's quite common in Anglo Saxon poetry, if I'm remembering correctly from my short time (three months) as a Medievalist. And although I think there may be some scholarly debate about the function of litotes for the original Anglo Saxon audience, I will nonetheless plunge into an area I haven't studied in years to tell you one of my favorite lines:
Þæt wæs grim cyning

Or, "that was a grim/cruel king." It seems as if a statement like this is made after cataloguing the said king's brutality, so that this line is a brief summary of all that. He was a grim king. Nuff said.

(Go ahead, John W, correct my oversimplification. I deserve it!)

At any rate, I wonder if I have always been attracted to litotes precisely because I am much more given to hyperbole in my own speech. One of my most frequent hyperbolic expressions, which C has taken as his project to rid me off, is this exclamation:
That's crazy!

It's true, I do say it in response to just about any unusual situation. The cat jumps on the counter top? He's crazy! The president wants to send more troops to Iraq? That's crazy!

Actually, now I'm thinking in some cases it may in fact become litotes.

*Cool Words with Diminished Use Value, that is. See the first installment.