Warming up to Comprehensive Exams

After taking what feels like a month-long academic hiatus — replaced by community engagement, caregiving, Wire-watching, traveling, and dubbing — I’m feeling refreshed and finally ready to get serious about my comp exam prep this summer. That’s not to say I haven’t been preparing for the exam all along. A few years ago Syracuse moved away from a process that favored co-generated reading lists to a prescribed one where many of the works are sprinkled throughout coursework. So I’ve already read or skimmed roughly 50-60% of the list. Still, there are several seminal works I haven’t touched (including Berlin’s Rhetoric and Reality, Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, and Shaughnessy’s Errors and Expectations). My first step, then, was to use Zotero to organize the core list into groupings somewhat based on the courses, but that also made sense to me — a dubious enterprise for sure. At this point I have ancient rhetoric, history, pedagogy, technology, and then methods and theories. I also have a folder dedicated to stuff I haven’t read. Although it might be smarter to choose books that straddle a number of areas (Brooke’s Lingua Fracta, Brandt’s Literacy in American Lives and Cintron’s Angel’s Town come to mind), conceptually and temporally it’s just easier – at least initially — to use a taxonomy to develop a strategy.

Seeing the 40+ works together in the list is a bit intimidating, and between taking care of two kids, researching a new course for Spring 2014, and maintaing general summer mojo, my study time feels incredibly limited. So rather than trusting myself to jump right in and tackle everything pell mell, I started by making some room to re-assess my study habits — namely by reading Mortimer Adler’s classic text How to Read a Book (recommended by one of my faculty members years ago), and revisiting Greg Colin Semenza’s excellent (and much more recent) book, Graduate Study for the 21st Century (1st ed)a text I blogged about two summers ago when I was about to be a real grad student again.

Based on Semenza’s advice in the “Exams” chapter, I’m glad I made some space to do so. As he puts it, “[t]he preparation for examinations — rather than the examinations themselves” (137) is what’s important. He suggests focusing on the process for studying since the questions that will be asked — likely to compare a broad disciplinary concept in 20 pages or so — will not match the scope of the works studied. He identifies this as a major trap of the exam process. Many people study incredibly hard and are then are eager to show off that work only to realize that the exam tests such a limited amount of knowledge. The other trap he mentions is shutting yourself in for months and months, jettisoning any sort of structure that had previously made your life livable. Thankfully my wife and kids preclude that from happening, but I’ve already scheduled a study session with at least one person in my cohort. I’m also running fairly regularly.

Arguably Semenza’s most controversial suggestion is to make the exam process work for you, using the process “as a starting point for dissertation research and advanced teaching” (138). Although he assumes readers are working within a exam structure that requires a co-constructed list (that is, not a master list like ours at SU), I wondered what it would mean to read selectively those books most relevant to my future. At the same time, he recommends reading widely, focusing on the basic aspects of each work, such as its “argument, methodology, contribution, and … context” (144).

I’ve really struggled with this part of the process, as it would be more fun to read deeply (in Adler’s terms, “analytically”) those works most important to me and my future work: Selber’s Multiliteracies, Shor’s Critical Teaching and Everyday Life, Hawk’s A Counter-History of Composition, and Lauer’s Invention in Rhetoric and Composition. But the solution is likely somewhere in the middle — read deeply occasionally, and widely often. There are six exam questions representing each of the six core classes; these are split up between two weeks, with students answering one of three questions per week. With that structure, then, you can afford to ignore two area/core class lists (let’s say ancient rhetoric and theory) and still be relatively prepared to answer the questions (since one would be left over if both those topics were asked the same week).

I don’t know if I’ll ignore two areas, but since I’m not particularly strong in ancient rhetoric and I don’t foresee myself doing too much with that area in the future, I’ll study that list the least. It feels like I’m hacking the system, but I think Semenza would be perfectly okay with my approach. As he puts it: “By the time you finish your reading for examinations, you will understand perfectly well that no examination will be able to test you effectively on how much you know” (136). Again, he uses that frame to suggest focusing on the process and not the exam is the key to surviving your comprehensive exams.

Tomorrow I’ll blog a little bit about Adler’s advice for reading syntopically (that is, across texts) as I prepare to start my studying by focusing on an area that I generally neglected in coursework: composition histories. Have advice on this process? Please post your ideas in the comments.

Marxist rhetorical theory and DIY print cultures

Buffalo Small Press Fair
Buffalo Small Press Fair: view from upstairs

A bit exhausted this weekend after travelling to WNY to attend the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair (more on that below) and to catch up with some great friends in the Queen City. At the expense of having deep engagement with the other readings this week, I spent some quality time with James Aune’s “Cultures of Discourse: Marxism and Rhetorical Theory” trying to tag it with detailed marginalia since it’s one of the few pieces from Contemporary Rhetorical Theory that are on my exam list for comps. Being a neophyte when it comes to Marxist histories and theories, I’m sure I gleaned less than 10% of the text; nevertheless, I found it interesting and potentially and unexpectedly helpful.

The piece is pulled from (as far as I can tell) an unremarkable 1990 edited collection called Argumentative Theory and the Rhetoric of Assent. Aune begins by plotting “a map of [Marxism’s] research program,” leaning heavily on Alvin Gouldner’s synthesis, and pulling a productive dialectic from a key tension between structure and struggle. By structure Aune means Marxism as a science, stressing “a deterministic view of ideology,” where capitalism’s fall is inevitable (citing Lenin and Althusser as key figures). By struggle Aune imagines the version of Marxism that foregrounds critique, and requires some form of organizing, resistance — and ultimately persuasion — in order to engender revolution (he cites Gramsci, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Eagleton as key figures in the second). He then sketches four ways that Marxism has traditionally attended to this tension, arguing that Marxism has only tangentially dealt with rhetorical theory, while rhetorical theory has only tangentially dealt with Marxism.

Aune’s hope, then, is to begin a conversation in the field that retains the ongoing critique of ideology while promoting some sort of material political and social change. To do so, he focuses on one of three levels of abstraction — the mode of production — in social analysis as articulated by Erik Olin Wright in Classes (1985).

Researchers focusing on the mode of production examine “the way in which dominant forms of argument relate to forces and relations of production in the most abstract way” (545; emphasis in original). For Aune, focusing on the mode of production helps dodge rhetorical studies’ “privileging of symbol-use over labor as the constitutive activity of human beings” which “risks being coopted by larger forces of domination in our culture” (546). Aune would have us pay attention to rhetoric’s dominant forms of argument — as cultures of discourse — as products of labor, “as material as a factory or a Hitler speech” (546). He describes these cultures of discourses in detail as traditional, critical, and poststructural and then proceeds to offer four takeaways on developing a Marxist rhetorical theory, including foregrounding the role of labor and class struggle in our theorizing, but also revisiting certain helpful aspects of the cultures of discourse that might contribute to Marxist theory, such as using common sense as the origin of enthymeme or thinking more broadly about oppression in terms of race, sexuality, or via the status of professionalized/specialized (and thus authorized) discourses.

As I returned from the Small Press Book Fair this weekend, of course, modes of production — specifically material ones — are front an center in my mind, especially since the purpose of the trip was to see how (1) I might propose a similar fest/fair here in Syracuse and (2) to think about potential sites for dissertation research. Zine and small press fairs exist all over the US. And although they are largely white, they are diverse in other ways and bring together a mix of working class/artistic subjectivities. What Aune’s piece does for me then, is help me think through “Do It Yourself” articulations from the perspective of Marxist rhetorical theory. The very phrasing of DIY emphasizes labor (“do it!”), but for much of my class and my blogging this semester I’ve been framing it via ecologic rhetorical theory — emphasizing the “yourself” part of the phrase, the part that considers the self as a node in a network. And while Aune also helps address co-optation, a Marxist rhetorical theory could help think critically about the craft of print culture and potentially address the question of why print still hold a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because our labor is still marked, inscribed, and circulated though the paper, the binding, and the edges of the book. It’s maybe a reminder that writing is work.

Booty from Buffalo Small Press Book Fair 2013
Booty from Buffalo Small Press Book Fair 2013

Burke and the Late Age of Print

As we transition from print communities to digital, participatory cultures in my DIY Publishing class this week, I’ve been of course trying to theorize some of the important differences between these various technologies and/or scenes. The concept of a participatory culture was first articulated by Henry Jenkins in his famous 2006 MacArthur white paper about media education. From the executive summary:

“A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).” (3; emphasis mine)

In this sense, any DIY community is participatory; political pamphlets, zines, art books, and independent journalism match these same general properties: anyone can cut and paste, learn from the more experienced members of the scene, and of course feel socially connected with one another. Most importantly, in any DIY publishing community, the work circulates among audiences who also produce the content. This begs the question, if participatory cultures have existed with us since the beginning of mass literacy, why has the digital privliged DIY now more than ever. The obvious answer might be located in Jenkins’s first characteristic where contemporary participatory cultures have “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement.” That is, anyone with a smartphone or access to a library computer can technically self-publish. You don’t have to spend $50 at Kinko’s to circulate your ideas on Facebook. I don’t want to contest that common sense response as much as I want to think more critically about how the field of comp/rhet has been perhaps eager to claim the digital as the dominant narrative for the imagined future of writing.

While Jody Shipka, Jay David Bolter or Ted Striphas might be more useful for exploring this question, I turn to Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives (ROM) not only because it’s our required reading in 631 this week, but because his concept of identification might allow us to better understand the new status of print inside and outside the classroom.

By the time Burke reaches his section on identification in ROM he’s discussed, among another things, the poems of Milton and Coleridge as they evoke the complexities of death in their work. In the case of both authors murder/suicide resists being reduced to a single motive. As such, no term can capture the motives in these cases, which is a purposeful move of the poet so as to employ image as transformation more generally. Burke chooses death/killing as topoi in ROM in order to illustrate the complexity of motive — as “proportions of a motivational recipe” (17) — but also to argue that depictions of death also identify a thing’s essence through its transformation. This is important for the concept of identification since “transformation involves the ideas and imagery of identification. That is: the killing of something is the changing of it, and the statement of the thing’s nature before and after the change is an identifying of it” (20). I may be perverting Burke here, but I wonder what the essence of print becomes when we declare its death. In a Burkean Burkeian sense, what is it transformed to?

I suppose, per usual, it depends on the context. When Kathleen Fitzpatrick describes the scholarly monograph in Planned Obsolescence, she calls it undead: “not viable, but still required” in the humanities. That is, while “the book” is indisputably the “gold standard for tenure” and promotion, the presses that publish the bound codex cannot support the number of academics writing them. As the title may suggest, Fitzpatrick argues that networked technologies such as Commentpress – which was used throughout the review process of Planned Obsolescence – are necessarily changing the way texts are born. Necessarily because ultimately Fitzpatrick’s argument is that the more grave obsolescence is not technological at all, but institutional: the process by which we produce, circulate, vet, and value the print monograph in the humanities is unsustainable. By declaring the scholarly monograph undead, Fitzpatrick is able to essentialize print, via the image of the zombie, as obsolete. What’s more, Fitzpatrick uses a material consubstantiation of the peer-to-peer network to propose a new way of doing peer review that is more in line with the academy’s needs in the 21st century.

According to Burke, consubstantiality occurs when two identities join as one:

“A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself (sic) with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so… In being identified with B, A is “substantially one” with a person other than himself. Yet at the same time he remains unique, an individual locus of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another… To identify A with B is to make A ‘consubstantial’ with B.” (20-21)

He goes on later in the section to argue that “[a] doctrine of consubstantiality … may be necessary to any way of life. For substance, in the old philosophies, was an act; and a way of life is an acting-together; and in acting together, men have common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial” (21). Fitzpatrick’s suggestion in Planned Obsolescence, then, is to increase the chances and frequency of consubstantiation via networked technologies. In doing so, our academic communities will limit the role of the monologic reviewer, but permit themselves to create something she calls “peer-to-peer review,” networked spaces such as blog-based platforms that “not only brings in more voices (which may identify more potential issues), and not only provides some ‘review of reviews’ (with reviewers weighing in on the issues raised by others), but is also crucially, a conversation.”

Through the process of conversation where rhetoric is at its center, identification and division compete. As Burke writes: “…put identification and division ambiguously together, so that you cannot know for certain just where one ends and the other begins, and you have the characteristic invitation to rhetoric” (25). Peer review, then becomes a contact zone for consubstantiality — and eventually as identifications takes hold, consensus and truth.

I think Fitzpatrick makes a fascinating and important case for how and why digital publishing networks can help bring the humanities into the 21st century. I’m on board. Yet, as my posts have asserted this semester, context is key. Again: how might the rush to declare print dead or undead transform it for other communities of practice? As Burke writes in Part II of ROM, how one uses rhetoric to gain advantage is dependent on audience: “The same rhetorical act could vary in its effectiveness, according to shifts in the situation of in the attitude of audiences” (62). Advantage, in other words, is defined by its context. Burke uses Aristotle, La Rochefoucauld and others to explain the different fruits that result form the concept of advantage: “happiness,” “love of glory,” “envy of others,” “desire for money,” etc. For Burke, the 21st century’s screen saturation might give print’s death a new meaning. For book makers, zine writers, and others who are involved in various DIY print communities, cool become that transcendent term. Advantage is gained through cultural capital (and obviously material capital since distinction in this context costs money). Yet as some would argue, DIY print texts are fundamentally detached from corporate networks, free from privacy compromises, terms of service agreements, and the like.

Aside from this, this semester is teaching me more than ever that print’s death can help defamiliarize visual rhetoric for “digitally native” students. That is, by asking students to put together booklets or zines, they literally see how form affects function and that they must think about audience in perhaps more experimental, riskier ways. In Burkean Burkeian terms, it helps students think that consubstantiation isn’t always intentional, but incidental.

“Radical possibilities” and the rhetorical situation

I’ve gotten really into bookbinding this week. Really into it. Like, I-went-to-Commercial-Art-Supply-and-spent-$40-on-supplies into it. I picked up an awl, some waxed thread, and bone folder and a case for my .005 fine art markers. It was prompted by an amazing workshop in my DIY Publishing class generously led by Peter Verheyen, who is not only the Head of Preservation for SU Libraries, but also one of the most active members of the international bookmaking scene. He showed me and my students various examples of art books from our Special Collections, and taught us two simple binding methods: a single-pamphlet stitch (which requires nothing more than a piece of thread, a needle, and 8 pieces of letter-sized paper) and a book cover fold (a la high school textbook days).

Thorsten Dennerline’s Real Things People Said And I Didn’t Know What To Say

As Peter was walking us through examples of various art books from SU’s collection, I wondered about how the artifact’s materiality affected its rhetoric — or perhaps how it fit into a rhetorical situation. For example, he showed us Thorsten Dennerline’s Real Things People Said And I Didn’t Know What To Say, whose cover was made from one of the very plates used to produce the pressings within its pages. In other words, by incorporating the metal plates into the text, its circulation was limited by its materiality and thus its purpose/audience. This isn’t to say these art books weren’t political. The Myth of Justice, by John Pusateri is “Dedicated to Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times in a hail of 41 bullets by four NYC police officers, February 4, 1999.” The book includes 41 ink blots, of which 19 are red. Despite (or because of) this exigence, only three copies of The Myth of Justice exist.

Thus, one of the most interesting moments for me in experiencing these books was that they pushed against some of my assumptions of what a publication can mean. After all, I’m teaching a class called DIY Publishing and had been approaching the class with a traditional definition of the rhetorical situation: the publication as a response to something. As Lloyd Bitzer notes in his famous essay (1968), a rhetorical discourse is distinguished from other sorts discourses (philosophical, scientific, poetic) by the nature of its response to a situation, which is usually required and fit for the occasion, be it by tone, genre, etc. Though Bitzer notes that any situation can be simple or complex, highly structured or loosely structured, can persist or decay, ultimately he understands rhetoric as making sense of knowable, objective reality where “the world presents imperfections to be modified by means of discourse” (225).

To me, the discourse of zines — and more largely DIY publishing — fits within this version of the rhetorical situation since most embody and articulate an expressed response to imperfections they see in the world. As Stephen Duncombe argues in Notes From Underground (1998), zines are a “vernacular” response to a marginalized subject position: “…what distinguishes zinesters from garden-variety hobbyists is their political self-consciousness. Many zinesters consider what they do an alternative to and strike against commercial culture and consumer capitalism” (8). Zines, then, respond to this imperfection through complex, loosely structured situations. A foodie zine (or blog even) might promote the slow food movement, a punk zine eschews the Grammy’s, etc. That said, I assumed that in order to supply a fitting response to these situations, the zine-rhetor must circulate their work widely enough to affect, but not so widely as to jeopardize their ethos with their community (i.e. not become a commodity themselves). What happens when an artisan book circulate with three copies? Will rhetorical discourse satisfy that occasion or is that meant for poetics?

With the proliferation of digital writing, many in the underground wonder if there is a rhetorical situation for zines at all or if that situation, which began to decay (to use Bitzer’s term) in the mid-90s, is actually dead. After all, many of the zines sold now are more products of craft, influenced by book arts and driven by a new economy of cultural capital: they circulate their work via precious fabric bindings, silkscreened color pages, or handmade, letterpresses covers. And though the consumer-capitalist critique hasn’t died in the underground, it has seemingly moved from traditional photocopied zines of circulations of 100-200 to (ironically) Tumblr accounts. However, if we look at any given rhetorical situation as being product of rhetors, as Richard Vatz does (1973), and not of an a priori reality, then we might say zine-rhetors are more powerful than ever. By using the Xerox machine, the needle, the laptop, the mail-order distro, and Etsy, zine producers have more choices for communicating and translating their situation (228) than ever before. After all, we have Urban Outfitters in Syracuse now, right?

The co-optation of indie culture by right wing douchebags like Richard Hayne is partial proof that these explanations of the rhetorical situation are too stable. Barbara Biesecker’s “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from within the Thematic of Différance” (1989) is helpful in that it denies an origin for either event or rhetor since language itself is as Derrida tells us, all symbolic action (i.e. language) is an interweaving: “no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present” (qtd in Biesecker 236). As Biesecker later notes, with différance there is no origin, only process: “neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation not its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a series of historically produced displacements” (239). This opens up a space for Biesecker to discuss the role of audience in the rhetorical situation since both Bitzer and Vatz have undertheorized (or at the very least homogenized) them. Instead of looking at the rhetorical situation as an “effect-stucture” as Biesecker calls it (event–>rhetor or rhetor–>event), we should look at it through a “logic of articulation” where audiences aren’t static essences or homogenized bodies, but constructed, “temporary displacement[s] of plurality” (239). They are made up of different people whose very humanness is predicated on their différance. With articulation, identities are in flux which is how possibilities can become radical through its refusal to essentialize. From this perspective, then, print zines aren’t necessarily more authentic than Tumblr sites; they might actually signify a changing of a DIY rhetorical situation.

While I think I understand Biesecker’s argument in opposition to Bitzer and Vatz (i.e. that there simply is no origin for rhetoric), I’m not sure I fully understand the benefit of understanding the audience through a logic of articulation. Or maybe I do but I’m not appreciating its complexities enough, especially in the context of late capitalism, where anything DIY can be co-opted and then commodified by a corporation. Of course I understand audiences are different, even within the same scene: look at the various topics, forms, etc. of zines. They are the embodiment of articulation. How this links to radical possibility, though, I’m not sure. Based on Biesecker’s talk two weeks ago, I’m guessing she’s abandoned articulation in this respect. The thesis of one of the essays up for discussion at that talk was that radical political will or agency can be understood via sublimation — a concept that comes from Lacanian psychoanalysis and not Derridian post-structuralism. It’s interesting to me that she’s zoomed in even closer to the subject to see how desire and drive might help better explain radical possibilities. I’m seeing a vague but potentially important connection to the more subliminal approach to the underground rhetor. As I learn more about the histories of youth cultures like skateboarders or riot grrrls or zine writers of the 90s, I am drawn to how the relationship between their amateur rhetoric and the goals of their movements. What’s interesting to me about these movements is how they create a situation — a scene — in response to a more dominant one. Duncombe see it this way:

The powers that be do not sustain their legitimacy by convincing people that the current system is The Answer. That fiction would be too difficult to sustain in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. What they must do, and what they have done very effectively, is convince the mass of people that there is no alternative. What I want to argue in the following pages is that zines and underground culture offer up an alternative, a way of understanding and acting in the world that operates with different rules and upon different values than those of consumer capitalism.

In other words, the question for the skater in the 70s, the riot grrrl in the 90s and the contemporary radical DIY publisher is to define their alternatives via their own ecologies, their own rhetorical situations that, as Jenny Rice argues, bleed (and this bleeding is one of the reasons why these scenes have been co-opted). In any case, for my students, the questions surrounding the rhetorical situation are very real and disorienting. Write a zine? For whom? Why? Where do I circulate it? As my students ask these questions in this unit and during our conferences this week, I’ll try to resist supplying any answers. It won’t be hard, mainly because I don’t have any. And of course, it’ll be exciting to see the radical possibilities they come up with in their responses.

Invention and Rhetorica ad Herenium

I’m resurrecting the blog this Halloween to think through some ideas on invention — and because having two kids means that I only have time to blog when I’m required to write short papers for my Ancient Rhetoric class (Hey guys!).

This week we’re pushing along, moving away from the Greeks and into the Romans by reading Rhetorica ad Herenium, which I’ve enthusiastically shorted to “RAH!” (exclamation point optional). RAH is essentially a handbook from 100 BC (late Antiquity, roughly 250-300 years after Isocrates and Aristotle). Along with Cicero’s De inventione (which contains several identical passages as RAH), it’s considered the first text from Rome on rhetoric. Despite this status, the book’s introduction in the Caplan translation characterizes the book as “a Greek art in Latin dress, combining a Roman spirit with Greek doctrine” (vii). I’m not entirely sure what this means since we’re only just beginning to learn about the cultural and geopolitical context for Roman rhetoric; however, it’s worth noting that the entire educational approach (enkyklios paideia, or “the rounded education”), and its formalist exercises in declamation (progymnasmata), emerged from the colonization and subsequent hellenization of Rome. According to Thomas Conley in Rhetoric in the European Tradition, ancient Roman rhetoric was learned from the Sophists and emulated Isoctates most of all, but standardized a curriculum for civic participation using enkyklios paideia and progymnasmata, essentially ancient skill-and-drill-style exercises.

The standardization of a curriculum especially in times of colonization is likely to lead any comp/rhet scholar, let alone anyone who took as few humanities classes in the last 20 years, to endless examples where language was used to limit, shape, control or contain groups based on race, class, or any other sociological category. Perhaps it was for this reason that Roman leaders initially resisted the enkyklios paideia, as it was meant to meet the “bureaucratic needs of Hellenistic governments” (Conley 31). However, learning rhetoric must have been seen as influencing cultural power as Latin speakers quickly learned that speech is what separated the Greeks from uncivilized barbarians in the hellenized world (Conley 32). In fact, RAH states from the outset that “[t]he task of the public speaker is to discuss capably those matters which law and custom have fixed for the uses of citizenship…” (5). In short, the eloquent orator — the good man speaking well — lives on via Cicero and RAH and invites citizens of Rome to join the ranks.

On one hand if the goal of the Greeks were to colonize, then the style of RAH makes perfect sense. Its didactic approach proceeds as an outline (i.e. “First, I will talk about X and Y. Of X there are three features, A, B, C. Of A, there are four subfeatures: 1, 2, and 3…”); reading it persistently requires rote recursive maneuvers and echoes some of my least favorite, domesticating moments from school. At times, it was more prudent to study my edition’s Analysis section which simply summarized these points and frequently employed tree diagrams, like the one below, to do so.

From the Analysis section of RAH

One can imagine an ancient reader studying RAH and knowing it as the only way to speak and, therefore, think. In fact, we inherit from Aristotle that invention (which RAH dedicates more than half of its space to outlining) is thought.

On the other hand, a large portion of the book covers invention for judicial causes (as opposed to epideictic or deliberative which are briefly discussed in Book III) and should be read in that context. That is, RAH acknowledges other occasions for speaking, but privileges the judicial because it argues it is the most difficult (read: bureaucratic?) of the three causes. One could imagine that the power of RAH as a handbook might empower aspiring orators (sponsored or self taught, I’m not really certain) if they could only learn how the more advanced speakers of the colony (e.g. the Sophists) wielded their oratorical power.

Of course, I realize I’m reading as what Edward Schiappa might call a “rational reconstructionist,” looking at RAH too closely “within [my] own philosophical framework” (194). But, frankly, as an introduction to ancient Roman rhetoric, how else am I to read it? If we can’t read it as rational reconstructionists, of what use is the treatise to contemporary audiences? I’m finding this to be a pattern in my ancient rhetoric course, as it is my one and only primer for ancient rhetoric.

My sense, though, is that while using postcolonial theory or even simply good-old-fashioned historical reconstruction to unravel the complex relationship between the Greeks and Romans would be fruitful, it’s beyond the scope of this post. Rather, because RAH reminds me so vividly of prescriptive pedagogies, I think it’s an interesting challenge to consider the degree to which it is actually still like contemporary writing pedagogies. As RAH tells us more than once, invention is “the most important and the most difficult” of the canons (59). I agree — and I’d argue so does the field. We still have hundreds of contemporary composition handbooks to help students invent (They Say/I Say, for example) and many of our writing programs still prescribe, even when we obscure the prescription as “heuristic.” And, of course, we have multiple debates from our scholarship that posit prescriptive approaches against more subjective ones (Bartholomae v Elbow, Connors v Berlin, Flower v Bizzell, and more recently, Miller v Sirc). For the remainder of this post, then, I’d like to briefly consider the degree to which RAH’s methods of invention are compatible with contemporary perspectives.

Although RAH is laid out linearly, I imagine aspects of its use weren’t all that different from contemporary handbooks, in didactic and autodidactic situations alike. By didactic I mean a teacher probably helped explain certain theories and structures, modeled them frequently, and led the student through the exercises, with frequent guided practice (as with the traditional 14 progymnasmata). By autodidactic, I mean a learner maybe memorized the book’s precepts and perhaps practiced sections alone or with a peer (this probably more true in later periods when texts circulated more readily). In fact, Book I states that its canons are best learned through “three means: Theory, Imitation, and Practice” (7-9) — an approach inherited from Protagoras. What separates RAH from contemporary handbooks, however is the former’s centrality to the curriculum. That is, implicit in RAH’s three means is the notion that learners will imitate and practice the structures though constant speaking and listening. How many of us who require handbooks put them at the center of our courses (assuming we even use them)?

While RAH is arranged linearly, the approach obscures the sophistic influence that many feminist scholars (Crowley, Vitanza, Jarrett, etc.) have embraced so far in our ancient rhetoric course. That is, RAH actually reinforces a core value of composition: the idea that truth is slippery. We require a discourse that avoids “confus[ing] language with reality” (Crowley 328) — even if that discourse must be rigid, as is the case with something like legalese. We need such rhetoric, as Berlin argued in the first Octolog, because we frequently disagree on reality. Whether the speaker is a lawyer or historian, rhetoric leads to closure, as a “stay against chaos” (33). This is why arguments require disagreeing parties to enter into a structure that provides a stasis — “the basic issue in dispute resulting from the positions taken by adversaries in a debate” (Conley 32). Stasis is the starting point in argumentation and RAH’s treatment of invention is essentially a theory of stasis in such discourse. Speakers sort this out via the Division, Proof, and Refutation stages of invention and come to some kind of closure, “for when we have submitted our arguments and destroyed those of the opposition, we have, of course, completely fulfilled the speaker’s function” (33).

Violence aside, the contemporary pressure to invent is a similar pressure: to produce a text under a particular timeline, to win, and to move on. A rhetorical occasion, especially when it comes to the composition classroom, has a start and an end that is dictated largely by the exigence (and ghosts) of print genres. I am most comfortable with RAH when I reflect on my own teaching of business writing (WRT 307), for example. Although the course is rooted in rhetoric via audience, it’s accountable for a genre-based pedagogy. Students need to leave the class having learned short forms (memos, letters) and longer forms (instructions and reports). Although I try not to teach the class in this way, those genres lend themselves to more objective structures than, say, the academic essay. In other words, RAH is not altogether different from the superstructures listed in Anderson’s Technical Communication. In fact, its suggestions for deliberative causes echo the kinds of guidelines my students follow when writing a feasibility report. That said, more experienced, practiced writers invent by being immersed in what Collin Brooke calls (via LeFevre and Bawarshi) ecologies.

As Brooke argues in Lingua Fracta, “The question ‘how do I start?’ that dominates pedagogical considerations of invention is more precisely a question of getting to the right answer (“How do I write something that will meet with the approval of my evaluator?”)” (85). For this reason he envisions a “proairetic invention,” which is a more generative approach to invention that respects endless renewal of new media because it resists closure. This blog, as an example of new media, is endless by definition. And with it I am drawing from whatever is available in my current ecology, which, as a maturing graduate student will change significantly from now until, well, forever. Having just read Brooke last week, I use my current ecology to make meaning of RAH, which I also read last week. If I read Bartholomae, I would be writing a different blog post.

Another example of a different approach to invention can be found in Jeff Rice’s “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy As Composition,” where Rice brings juxtaposition to bear on sonic and alphabetic texts. Experimental arrangements of samples from more or less arbitrary texts can still yield interesting and productive meaning by way of syntheses. By reaching into whatever is available, composers can place these texts up against each other in order to look at patterns and relationships. This method helps address the common problem of invention for the novice and professional writer alike — just to get something to talk about and mess with. I’m paraphrasing Rice liberally here, but the point is that these more experimental, open approaches can be quite useful when writers can’t seem to get more prescriptive, dominant voices out of their heads.

Personally, when it comes to academic writing, I find Rice and Brooke’s approach to invention more in line with my own practices than I do RAH’s. Part of the reason for this is that invention is different in the 21st century not so much because we no longer require stasis or structures for our civic discourse (clearly we do!), but that the available means (information and modes/media) has grown and continues to grow exponentially. At the same time, I don’t fully discount the value of its approach in particular and specific scenarios. Stasis theory is important to civic discourse and argumentation. We need a stay against chaos. The question RAH reminds me of is not only when, but how to use more prescriptive, genre-based approaches to composition over the more experimental, open, endless maneuvers suggested by Brooke and Rice.

Questions for discussion:

  • How might we use elements of RAH in our classrooms? When is it appropriate to provide linear, didactic approaches versus more experimental ones?
  • RAH argues that invention is the most important canon and the most difficult part of rhetoric.” Why could we imagine this to be true in 100 BC and is it still the case today?
  • How is RAH relevant? Why should contemporary scholars and writing instructors read it beyond simply history for its own sake? If we were to image updating the arrangement of the treatise from a print text to a hypertext, how might that help us see its affordances?
  • Handbooks are central to an autodidactic pedagogy. But how do its users interpret, practice, and otherwise engage them effectively? How do our own students use handbooks, other than to copy and apply formatting (like MLA)? Can we embrace proairetic invention and hip-hop pedagogy as long as we have handbooks? How might we use them in the classroom in ways the Romans used RAH?

Cintron’s Angels Town

This week in my advanced methods course we read the first 4 chapters from Angels Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday (1998) by Ralph Cintron. Though I hadn’t heard of Cintron before this semester, I’ve been anticipating this book since the syllabus was distributed in January because (1) we’re breaking it up over two weeks of the semester and (2) other members of the program have lauded it in passing. Obviously the book carries some weight. So what is that weight?

What’s striking right from the preface is Cintron’s reflexivity. Cintron combines critical ethnography with rhetorical theory to provide a thick portrait of a Latino/a neighborhood in Chicago and extends that portrait to a larger commentary on the relationship between representation, power and language in everyday life (note to self: read de Certeau). As he notes early in the preface, “one of the book’s controlling questions is How does one create respect under conditions of little or no respect?” (x). He admits the problem in answering this question, reducing the method of fieldwork to “the difficulty of finding the truth inside the lie, the lie inside the truth” (xiii).

Cintron spends the first chapter examining this problems of ethnography and representation by recalling his own background as the son of a Texas farmer, defining the true field site as the text that is constructed by the ethnographer, analyzing the power of the researcher through the interplay of ethos and logos, etc. But what struck me most about the intro is its inductive approach. When Cintron narrates his data-collecting process — 300 pages of notes, 91 tapes, 100+ documents in one round and then a slew more in yet another round years later — and then we see how he arranges that data by navigating specific moments with Don Angel, Valerio, and others alongside his own interpretations, I get the sense of how messy and chaotic this project must have been. Although Cintron isn’t always explicit in connecting his dots, the reader certainly benefits from what must have been a rigorous revision process.

A couple of questions for me as I read through these chapters:

  • Last week as we read and discussed an anthropology of writing (AOW), we heard perspectives about how an AOW studies so-called mundane sites like the workplace; this is different from ethnographers of the early and mid 20th century who studied othered, exotic sites and cultures. In chapter 2 of Angel Town, Cintron take up the question of romanticizing the subject: “For those who read and write ethnographies, the fieldsite is an ethnographic trope that generates both the spell of the exotic (romance) and resistance (science) to that spell” (16). Cintron tries to address this contradiction by studying a mundane map of Angeltown that “deflates the exotic and, in so doing, amplifies it” (16). As a researcher interested in studying a site that has shaped my own identity (self-publishing) I worry that I might fall prey to the romance Cintron evokes in this chapter. When we study material and subjects near and dear to us, then, how do we balance the romantic with the scientific? Does Cintron succeed in chapter 2 and throughout Angels Town?
  • A CCC review of Angels Town called my attention to Cintron’s move to construct metaphors from his data. This made sense to me given the inductiveness of his project. But is his reading of data too figurative? That is, does he ever make too much of certain details (his reading of Valerio’s obsession of cars, for instance)? Is his rhetorical reading of certain instances of everyday life in Angeltown paradoxically too sweeping?
  • Finally, given that Cintron’s fieldwork is now 20-25 years old, how might our privilege of distance help us assess the significance of this work in terms of cultural anthropology and writing studies? What do we need to take from this for our own work, and what needs to be left alone?

Silos and Intersections

Yesterday I wrote a quick summary of Jonathan Alexander’s excellent book, Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy, which considers how composition courses might teach sexual literacy. As Jonathan summarizes, LSP argues for

…creating pedagogical spaces in which writing instructors can approach the topic of sexuality in their writing courses as a literacy issue — a realization that becoming increasingly aware of how “talk” about sexuality is tied to some of the most fundamental ways in which we “talk” about ourselves, our lives, our communities, our nation, and our world. (178)

I ended yesterday’s post by asking how an instructor might avoid an add-on approach to sexual literacy in an already existent curriculum; we had an interesting conversation in class yesterday afternoon about that anxiety, specifically when the course already deploys a cultural-studies based critical pedagogy (as we do in our lower-division courses). The WRT 105 shared syllabus, for example, addresses many issues of difference, but does so through frames as “re-imagining the normal,” “contested space,” or “visual analysis,” so that students can choose to focus their analysis on a variety of cultural representations (that are constructed via discursive hegemonic scripts) in a variety of contexts. Put another way, our instructors are trained to teach students theory as heuristic, heuristics that could get at discourses of sexuality, but that also have an equal chance to getting at other silos of difference: issues of race, class, etc. The ultimate hope, however, is that students will address intersections of complex cultural phenomenon that traverse more than one of these silos. For example, one of the required readings in the shared textbook this semester is a Slate.com article, “Does This Purple Mink Make Me Look Gay?” which discusses hip hop and homophobia so that students have to analyze issues of sexuality which are bound up in issues of race, which are ultimately bound up in issues of language.

Our Skype conversation with Jonathan yesterday helped make more sense of these problems. Although he makes this clear in LSP, he reiterated how tokenization should be a real concern for any critical pedagogue and shared some thoughts about this in a few different ways.

For example, when I asked him how he has implemented sexual literacy as a WPA, his response was, “I don’t implement. I invite.” He shared a perspective on the recent passing of California’s FAIR Education Act, or SB 48, which, starting in January, will require public schools to teach gay history in its social studies curriculum. According to Jonathan, this will inevitably lead to a checklist-like approach to covering the curriculum, obscuring more nuanced approaches to collective agency. Harvey Milk, he said, is a choice example. Milk was elected to the SF Board of Supervisors because he collaborated with other minority groups to change the way the those supervisors were elected. Yet a legislated curriculum is likely to ignore such a nuanced understanding of the complexities of that narrative.

Jonathan agreed that adding sexual literacy to a larger curriculum of difference, as we have at SU, is a smart approach since those intersections are always present (it also, perhaps, makes implementing said curriculum across a writing program a little more doable). A class on sexuality, for example, could be inflected with issues of race. The point for Jonathan is to push back on the normative functions of culture, which are always executing at rapid speeds. In another example, Jonathan critiqued the “It Gets Better” Youtube campaign if only because of the monologic effect such a campaign has on the discourse of LGBT youth (and, presumably, for normalizing postponement and tacitly tolerating anti-gay agendas that affect our youth).

LSP and our subsequent conversation with Jonathan has interesting implications for my teaching. I’m not sure how (or if) I will incorporate sexual pedagogy/literacy into my curricula any time soon, but I do have to come to terms with it when I think about the outcomes of our courses here at SU and, specifically, as I rewrite both WRT 105 syllabus for this course and WRT 205 next semester. Thanks to @activitysory, I’ve been working with folks at the Belfer Audio Archiveon developing a possible unit for WRT 205 that would have students writing scripts for Soundbeat, Belfer’s daily podcast. Implicit in that work will be issues of IP, remix culture, and at least some accountability to critical pedagogy. I don’t know how I will accomplish all that, but I’ll reflect more tomorrow.

Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

In my Writing Pedagogies class this week we’re reading chapters from Jonathan Alexander’s Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy: Theory and Practice for Composition Studies (2008), which is also on the CCR Exam List. The book calls our field to consider teaching sexual literacy, “the knowledge complex that recognizes the significance of sexuality to self- and communal definition and that critically engages the stories we tell about sex and sexuality to probe them for controlling values and for ways to resist, when necessary, constraining norms” (5). Central to this approach is the consideration of narrative since (1) it is the primary means of the “discursive turn” in sexuality studies (see Foucault) and (2) as Butler reminds us, gender performances are repetitions that (hetero)normalize and socially construct sexuality and sexual identity. By revisiting these normalized scripts through carefully designed curricula and instruction and drawing from insight of queer theory, Alexander proposes that we work with our students to interrogate our sexual “self and subjectivity” since it is central to a 21st century literacy. Sexual literacy thus means “knowing how to talk and communicate about sex and sexuality” and “coming into an awareness of the norms that figure sex and sexuality in certain prescribed and culturally normative ways” (63). Although Alexander doesn’t exactly offer up his ideas as a full fledged course in FYC, he does argue for at least portions of our curricula to incorporate objectives that would make our students sexually literate.

While I haven’t drawn from queer theory in the comp classroom, I did collaborate with Emily a few years ago to develop a unit in WRT 205 (our sophomore-level research course) centered on sex work and labor. In that unit our students had to synthesize diverse texts on gender and sex work such as Alexa Albert’s researched nonfiction text, Brothel (about the comings and goings of a brothel outside of Reno, NV), as well as her more scientific texts from the American Journal of Public Health. It wasn’t as comprehensive of a curriculum as Alexander advocates in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy, but I do remember the unit was an easy sell and the class discussions were fascinating. I don’t remember any students feeling uncomfortable with the content either, so I’m not sure why I didn’t reprise it (though Emily has since developed and enhanced the curriculum since her MA dossier focused specifically on the narratives of sex workers, and specifically trans sex workers). I’m not sure if I’ll revisit a sexual pedagogy in the near future, and I wonder why that is. It’s not like I’m unconvinced by Alexander’s arguments; I do see value in drawing from queer theory especially to engage all students with narratives of sexuality. And I’m not too concerned with making a mess or mockery of sexual pedagogy, though I’d definitely show this amazing clip from SNL last year (trust me, it’s worth sitting through the commercial):

I suppose part of it is figuring out how to avoid the add-on, supplemental approach to this pedagogy when I’m not committed to going whole hog with the curriculum. Alexander has kindly agreed to Skype with us today, so perhaps I’ll ask if he has ideas on this.

Ch 2-3: Graduate Study for the 21st Century

Chapter 2: The Structure of Your Career: An Ideal Plan
Semenza’s succinct overview of a grad students’ time, taken generally, didn’t challenge many of my prevailing notions of the Plan mostly because CCR kicks so much ass in that department. A few pieces of concrete advice, however, seemed helpful. In terms of time, I should think of my 4 years as such:

  • finish coursework in 3 semesters + a summer (I’m already 4 courses deep)
  • compile most of my annotated bib during last semester of coursework (Fall 2012)
  • pass exams within 6 months of finishing coursework (by end of Spring 2013)
  • complete prospectus 3 months after exams (by Fall 2013),
  • which would leave almost 2 years to write the dissertation and find a job.

About the dissertation:

  • The prospectus should be a hypothesis with works consulted (15-20 pages) that serves 3 purposes: a checklist of bibs, your exigence anchor and your blueprint for writing.
  • Fact: 30% of ABDs fail to get their doctorate not because they aren’t capable (they gotten so far already), but because they’ve become cheap, matriculated, resident labor and grad programs don’t know how to handle that.
  • Tips on writing the dissertation: write at least one chapter per semester and two in the summer, avoid teaching new courses (no more than 2), and prepare for the market at least one year in advance.

Chapter 3: Organization and Time Management
As with Chapter 2, I’ve already heard much of the advice passed along here or learned from experience. The section on organizing seemed particularly old to me, considering my work (survival?) as a WPA, but it always feels good to have those things reinforced. The dominant argument in the chapter, though, is worth pasting prominently on a tack board, monitor, or desktop: protect your research and writing time.

I’ve seen faculty defend theirs over the years (ever try to schedule a meeting on a Friday?), and now it’ll be up to me to do the same. Because a typical graduate student’s schedule is flexible, it’s important to respect that dynamic and develop routines that foster productive habits. Specifically, Semenza assigns his research and writing time to 2 hours every weekday morning (and about 4 hours on weekend mornings), where he will “refuse to answer the phone, to respond to any knocks on [his] office door, or to schedule actives of any kind” (which I suppose would now include Facebook) (49). His point is not only to dedicate time, but to dedicate time when he is most energetic, alert, and fresh. Other priorities, such as service and teaching, and (to some extent) family, should be put in check. Paper grading should be systemic and efficient — about 15 minutes per paper or 3-4 minutes per page — and office hours should occur on a MWF schedule since most student pack in courses on TTh.

Semenza also goes to great lengths to refute the myth that grad students should expect true “breaks” or summers off. Forget it. Those are prime research and writing times and based on what I’ve seen from the majority of past and present CCR students, I’d say this is true as true can be.

To counterbalance the stress of the 10+ hour workday, Semenza argues for a solid exercise regimen, trying to fit in jogging, yoga, or the like at least a few times per week. I look forward to trying to get that going again, though it’s going to have to be with respect to another dynamic discussed in this chapter: family.

Having a kid throughout the Ph.D. process — a somewhat rare thing based on this chapter — may delay my degree and will definitely make my life more stressful (compared to what, I’d like to know). This will mean, for example, that in order to get the exercise in, I’m going to need something like a jogging stroller and/or bike seat or trailer in the warmer months, and maybe a gym or pool pass in the colder months. First world problems.

As I said, the organizing section of this chapter wasn’t super helpful and Semenza’s print-centered recommendations to use folders, binders and date books is definitely outdated, but it did get me thinking again about digitization and the office space(s) I’ll inhabit in the fall: the windowless basement of HBC (barf), my home office (booya), and the random local coffee joints (buzz). My home office — where I picture myself writing and researching 75% of the time — will require me to clear space on the desktop (almost a quarter of the desk is taken up by an old pie shelf we’ve used for paper), in single-drawer filing cabinet (for CCR files) and on the tack board for notes and on-deck work. Consider those added to the to-do list.